Imagine walking around with a pin stabbing the bottom of your foot, and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like to suffer from a heel spur. This condition can potentially interfere with the ability to stand or walk comfortably, but it is possible to treat heel spurs.

Heel spurs are usually a result of normal wear and tear.

The main bone of the heel is called the calcaneus, and it’s surrounded by connective tissue called the plantar fascia. If the plantar fascia wears down, it can lead to a condition called plantar fasciitis. This condition is associated with abnormal calcium build-up on the calcaneus, or heel bone. Over time, this calcification can result in the formation of sharp spurs on the calcaneus, which are called heel spurs.

People who put a greater-than-average amount of pressure on their feet are at higher risk for the formation of heel spurs. For example, people who stand for prolonged times or have a high body weight can easily develop heel spurs. Highly athletic individuals, especially those who do high-impact activities like running or jogging, are also at a higher risk. Additionally, heel spurs can be associated with inflammatory conditions like arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

There are several simple ways to prevent heel spurs.

Since heel spurs are the result of wear and tear, it’s important to take good care of the feet. Indeed, the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group says that:

“The most important thing to do in order to avoid development of plantar fasciitis or heel spurs is to take care of your feet.”

For example, mild pain should not be ignored. If an activity causes pain, stop and rest, and next time pace the activity to avoid pain. If the feet are injured, allow them to recover. Individuals who have structural problems with their feet, such as flat feet or high arches, should focus more on lower-impact activities that don’t place excess strain on the feet, like swimming or biking.

Some additional ways to prevent heel spur formation include:

  • Wear shoes with good support and shock-absorbent soles
  • Replace shoes when the soles or heels become worn
  • Stretch before and after exercise
  • Lose weight
  • If prescribed corrective orthotics for structural problems, wear them diligently

Dealing with heel spurs early might prevent the need for corrective surgery later.

In the early stages of heel spur development, there might be no pain or other symptoms, or the pain might be intermittent or very slight. In fact, WebMD states that while 1 in 10 people have heel spurs, only 1 in 20 of these people experience pain.

This makes habitual foot care highly important. The same steps that can prevent heel spur formation can help ease minor symptoms. This includes wearing shoes with good support. Some high-quality shoe salespersons are also knowledgeable about managing painful foot conditions like heel spurs, but a physician’s advice is always best.

Those who do feel pain can experience it in very different ways, such as burning, stabbing, or aching. It will usually be felt after long periods of rest, such as when getting out of bed in the morning, or after some sort of activity. If pain is persistent, over-the-counter medications might ease discomfort. The application of ice can also reduce inflammation, thereby relieving pain.

If at-home treatments aren’t reducing heel spur pain, it may be time to speak to a physician.

Heel spurs may continue to worsen, especially if they’re ignored. This means that the pain will become worse, possibly so much so that it becomes nearly debilitating. Additionally, the heel spur may actually become visible through the skin.

Many physicians will be able to suggest non-surgical treatments to reduce heel spur pain. For example, spinal nerve block injections might provide some relief. These injections involve the delivery of medication to the nerves that transmit pain signals from the feet. Typically, spinal nerve blocks include an anesthetic, such as lidocaine, to relieve pain. If significant inflammation is present, a steroid might be included in the injection to reduce the inflammation.

Another treatment that works by blocking pain signal transmissions is radiofrequency ablation (RFA). In this procedure, thermoelectric probes are inserted, and focused heat is used to damage the pain fibers, which are nerves that transmit pain signals. In rare cases, if errors occur during RFA, it might actually worsen pain.

If all else fails, surgery might the best option for a heel spur.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, over 90% of patients suffering from plantar fasciitis, which is closely associated with heel spurs, respond to non-surgical treatments within 10 months. However, if symptoms haven’t been lessened after a year of aggressive non-surgical methods, surgery might be considered.

The precise surgical techniques can vary for each individual. In some cases, surgery will include only the removal of the heel spur. If the heel spur is accompanied by plantar fasciitis, the surgeon might cut through the plantar fascia, either partially or fully, to relieve painful tension. Both procedures can be done at the same time, usually on an outpatient or day-surgery basis.

After heel spur surgery, there is typically a recovery period of 6 to 8 weeks. Crutches might be necessary for a while, and weight bearing activities should be limited. Medications, elevation, icing, and rest are recommended to reduce post-surgical pain. It’s possible for some nerve damage to occur during surgery, which can cause numbness around the heel.

Heel spurs can reoccur after surgery, so to prevent heel spurs from becoming chronic, it’s important to discuss prevention techniques with a physician. Generally, the same steps that prevent heel spur formation can prevent heel spur recurrence.

Do you suffer from heel spur pain?

Image by katielann12 via Flickr

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