The health of our feet is not generally a “water-cooler” conversation, but if you’re dealing with significant pain, specifically from something like heel spurs, you’ll start thinking about it with every single step.
Heel spurs, also called calcaneal spurs, can be especially problematic for professional or amateur athletes who need to maintain a high-level of performance, as well as for people who live an active lifestyle.
Left untreated, calcaneal spurs can cause moderate to severe pain, cause pain in other parts of the foot, and make it difficult to be comfortably mobile.
This condition can be difficult to detect because heel spurs are not necessarily visible without x-rays. In fact, some people with heel spurs might not even know they have them, while others may experience debilitating pain.
What Are Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs are a form of bone spurs, a condition known medically as an exostosis. They are calcium deposits that form bony-like outgrowths between the arch of the foot and the heel. Heel spurs or calcaneal spurs can get up to a half-inch in length.
People with other foot conditions, like plantar fasciitis, which causes painful inflammation in the ligament that extends from the heel to the forefoot, are likely at a greater risk for having heel spurs.
The same is also true for people who suffer from Achilles tendonitis.
Maintaining good foot health is critical, and knowing how to find the best shoes for heel spurs can be an excellent place to start. Because calcaneal spurs are so common, fortunately there are best shoe lists compiled by people who have experienced this issue.
What Causes Heel Spurs?
Long-term strain on the muscles and ligaments can cause heel spurs to develop over a period of time. They don’t generally appear overnight, which is why it’s important not to ignore heel pain, even if it’s minor. This pain might be the start of a heel spur that can become worse if left untreated.
Along with poor footwear, physical activity such as walking, running, or jumping on hard surfaces can lead to a heel spur.
The following issues can also be the causes of heel spurs:
- Being overweight
- Unsupportive footwear like flip-flops
- Heel bruises
- Issues with the gait of a person’s walking stride
Common Heel Spurs Symptoms
As noted earlier, sometimes a person may not have any heel spurs symptoms and only learn they have the condition while being examined for another foot problem.
In other more painful cases, a small bony projection may be visible, and the affected area may even be warm to the touch.
The primary heel spurs symptoms include:
- Front of the heel swelling
- Pain in the heel or foot
These symptoms can also extend to the arch of the foot and make the condition even more uncomfortable. This is why it’s important to consider all heel spur treatment options.
Heel Spurs Treatment Options
There is a range of heel spurs treatment options, but it is important to see a podiatrist or a sports physician so they can rule out any other issues that might be causing pain in the heel.
Many times these specialists might suggest specialized orthotics or proper footwear to help support the heel.
Other heel spurs treatment options can include:
1. Over-the-Counter Pain Medications
Pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) can help relieve some of the pain while also decreasing inflammation.
2. Ice or Cold Compress
Using either a wrap or a simple bag of ice covered with cloth, apply the cold therapy to the swollen heel spur for approximately 10 to 15 minutes and repeat every hour or so.
This can help reduce the inflammation and some of the pain. It is also possible to rest or roll your foot over a frozen bottle of water for the same effect.
3. Stretches and Exercises
Keeping both the foot and the calf muscle stretched can be beneficial for relieving pressure on tight or inflamed soft tissue that’s rubbing against the heel spur.
Stretches and other exercises can include using the hands to gently pull the toes back, or simply stretching the arch.
Calf stretches using a step can be effective too. With the heel slightly extending over the edge of the step, support yourself as you slowly allow your weight to stretch the calf.
Physical therapists, podiatrists, or sports physicians are likely to provide other stretching exercises or instructions as well.
4. EPAT Shockwave Therapy
EPAT Therapy is an excellent, noninvasive option for treating heel spurs and speeding up the healing time.
Studies have shown that this painless approach is not only safe, but also improves the symptoms of heel pain in most patients.
Also known as Shockwave Therapy, or Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy, EPAT Therapy is a regenerative treatment technique that works by applying impulse pressure waves deep into damaged soft tissue. This stimulation increases blood flow to the tendons and ligaments and reduces inflammation.
Because it is a non-surgical procedure, there’s no anesthesia, scarring, risk of infection, or downtime related to recovery.
EPAT is especially useful for essential workers or athletes who do not have the option to take time off for more invasive procedures. They can receive the treatment while continuing to perform at high-levels.
5. Steroid Injections for Calcaneal Spurs
Corticosteroid injections in the middle or inner part of the heel are effective in reducing pain and inflammation. The lasting effects of the injection can vary from person to person.
Steroid injections are not a cure for heel spurs and there is a limit to the number of shots a person should get because steroids can do damage to the surrounding tissue if they are used too often.
In most cases, surgery is the last option for people who found no relief from more conservative or less invasive treatment options. The actual procedure will vary depending on the surgeon’s chosen technique.
As always, there is some risk associated with surgery and it should only be chosen after careful consideration and a thorough discussion with your physician. Recovery from a successful surgery can be several weeks or longer before a person is able to move around normally.
For anyone experiencing foot pain from a calcaneal spur, hopefully the heel spurs treatment options outlined here will provide some relief to begin the healing process.