Alex Adam Podiatry > Blog > What Are Heel Spurs?

What Are Heel Spurs?

A heel spur (or osteophyte) is a small bony growth or collection of bony growths on the back or underside of the heel. Calcium deposits build on the underside of the heel bone and this process takes a long time to form.

For some heel pain is very common and often painful. There are many heel conditions that arise from the wear and tear and stress on your heel bone. The cause of heel spurs is often caused by strains on foot muscles and ligaments, stretching of the plantar fascia, and repeated tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone.

Heel spurs are typically prevalent among athletes whose activities include large amounts of running and jumping.

Heel spurs are an adaptive change within the foot, that are the result of forces associated with normal walking. Spurs can be associated with any major tendon complexes in the skeletal system.

Heel spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis, although similar, they are two completely different diagnoses. About 70% of patients with plantar fasciitis have a heel spur that can be seen with an X-ray. Usually, plantar fasciitis is followed by a heel spur.

Heel spur symptoms

Symptoms of heel spurs may include pain, inflammation, and swelling at the front of your heel. The affected area may also feel warm to the touch. The symptoms may spread to the arch of your foot. Eventually, a small bony protrusion may be visible. Heel spurs can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other forms of heel pain and foot problems.
Your podiatrist will palpate for tenderness, inflammation or swelling (the affected area may feel warm to the touch), test for range of motion and ankle movement (biomechanical), and check for any trauma associated to the pain. They may also order x-rays to formulate the exact cause of the heel pain.

What Are Heel Spurs?

Heel spurs V plantar fasciitis V Fat pad contusion

The difference between heel spurs and plantar fasciitis?

There is a distinct difference between a heel spur and plantar fasciitis, but the two are closely related. A heel spur is a bony projection that occurs from the bottom of the heel along the course of the plantar fascia. It will vary in size but is usually not larger than 12 mm. A heel spur may have no symptoms associated with it and is often picked up on an X-ray. Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition in which there is an inflammatory process occurring where the plantar fasciitis attaches to the heel. This occurs because of an abnormal force being placed on it. Things that can cause an abnormal biomechanical force are genetic makeup, trauma, excessive weight, overuse, or wearing shoes without a supporting arch.

Fat Pad Contusion?

Quite often we see fat pad contusions wrongly diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. A contusion, or bruise, occurs when there is high impact contact between the calcaneus and the ground. This results in the loculated fascia holding the padding together to tear and decrease shock absorption during loading. A bruise may or may not be visible.

Heel spur treatment

Generally, the recommended treatment of heel spurs is to rest from any physical activity, apply ice to heel area, and stretch the calf muscle and foot. Stretches and exercise will help relax the tissues that surround the bone decreasing inflammation and pain.

Chronic and painful spurring can result in fibrosis (or scarring) around the heel, exacerbating the problem. Typically, this does not require surgery as conservative treatments such as high-level laser therapy and extracorporeal shockwave therapy can reduce fibrosis and allow for rehabilitation.

It is important to note that most people over the age of 60 have spurring at the heels however exhibit no associated painful symptoms. Those that do experience pain can quite often be managed with appropriate footwear and orthotic prescription to place the foot in an ideal position, preventing the spur from impacting on sensitive tissues. Coupled with appropriate stretching and strengthening, this can reduce the re-occurrence and prevent future pathology.

As part of your treatment plan for heel spurs, your podiatrist would recommend resting from any physical activity, apply ice to heel area, and stretch the calf muscle (Stretches and exercise will help relax the tissues that surround the bone) use a roller to stretch the bottom of the foot.

If symptoms persist, see one of AMA Podiatry skilled podiatrist to identify the causes and mechanisms of your condition. Therefore, establishing an accurate and effective treatment plan individually tailored for you.

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