A heel spur is an abnormal bone growth that develops on the calcaneus, or heel bone. It usually forms at the bottom front part of the calcaneus where the plantar fascia attaches. The excessive bone growth is created when the plantar fascia is overloaded or overused.
Extra tension can result in overstretching, inflammation and/or micro-tearing of the fascia at your heel which your body finds difficult to repair. As your body tries to heal itself, the heel spur forms from calcium deposits (an osteophyte) at the bottom of your heel. It can vary in shape from a flat, shelf-like growth to a hook-shaped, pointy projection, and can extend forward up to a half inch. Your body hopes this extra bone and tissue will help to relieve the pressure on your plantar fascia.
The spur itself is not painful, however, if it is sharp and pointed it can poke into soft tissue surrounding the spur itself. As the bone spur irritates the tissue, inflammation and bruising can occur leading to heel pain.
Heel spurs can affect your ability to do your usual work and/or activities, and can also trap and irritate the nerves in your heel area. They can change the way you walk, and can lead to knee, hip and low back injuries. If severe, they may require medical intervention.
10-21% of the population is affected by heel spurs. They are most often seen in athletes, people who are on their feet all day, are overweight, and/or over 40 years of age.
Many people refer to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs as one in the same. Although these are similar, they are not same. Heel spurs can actually be caused by plantar fasciitis; 50% of people with plantar fasciitis have heel spurs, whereas 19% of people have heel spurs without plantar fasciitis.
Alternate names and/or associated conditions:
Pump bump, exostosis, calcaneal spur syndrome, heel spur syndrome, Haglund's deformity
Your plantar fascia is only able to stretch to 102% of its length without tearing; therefore it doesn't have much flexibility when exposed to excessive weight or heel pounding. Because of this, the main cause of plantar fasciitis is from overuse and overloading in occupations where you are on your feet all day (teachers, store clerks, soldiers, waitresses, hostesses), activities that require you to push heavy items (shippers and receivers, construction workers) and/or sporting activities in which you overexert yourself (doing too much, too fast and/or too soon), especially running, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, volleyball, step-aerobics, stair climbing, dancing.
Faulty foot structures (abnormal growths, different leg lengths, and unhealed injuries) and muscle imbalances (tight, weak or shortened muscles in your foot, ankle, calf and hamstring) can cause you to walk on your toes which increases the strain on your plantar fascia and the muscles on the sole of your foot (flexor digitorum brevis and quadratus plantae).
Poor biomechanics affect the way your foot hits the ground. If you overpronate (feet roll inward) you tend to have flat feet (pes planus), which increases pressure on your plantar fascia. If you underpronate (feet roll outward) you tend to have rigid feet and a high arch (pes cavus), which results in a shortened plantar fascia.
Regular shoes or high heels that are too tight or don't support your heel or arch affect the distribution of your body weight on your foot and add undue stress to your plantar fascia and back of your heel. This causes a lot of rubbing and pressure points on your foot.
Health conditions such as obesity, inflammatory diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis), bursitis, neuroma (nerve growths), gout, diabetes, Haglund's deformity, and Achilles tendinitis can also instigate the problem.
You may or may not experience any symptoms with your heel spurs. It is normally the irritation and inflammation felt in the tissues around your heel spur that cause discomfort.
Heel pain is one of the first things you may notice, especially when pushing off the ball of your foot (stretches the plantar fascia). The pain can get worse over time and tends to be stronger in the morning, subsiding throughout the day; although it does return with increased activity.
A sharp, poking pain in your heel that feels like you're stepping on a stone can often be felt while standing or walking. You will sometimes be able to feel a bump on the bottom of your heel, and occasionally bruising may appear.
Your doctor will discuss your medical history and will examine your foot and heel for any deformities and inflammation (swelling, redness, heat, pain). He/she will analyze your flexibility, stability, and gait (the way you walk). Occasionally an x-ray or blood tests (to rule out diseases or infections) may be requested.
Treatment and Prevention
Heel spurs are considered a self-limited condition, which means that by making small alterations in your lifestyle and regular routines you can often control the condition. The goal is to relieve pain, reduce friction and transfer pressure from your sensitive foot areas. By eliminating the cause of the heel spur and plantar fasciitis (i.e. better shoes, orthotics to fix your gait, losing weight) will help reduce the pressure put on your fascia and heel and can reduce the inflammation caused by your heel spur. Failure to see improvements after conservative treatments may make surgery your only option.
Cold Compression Therapy
When you are experiencing pain, swelling, and inflammation in the bottom of your foot, doctors recommend cold compression therapy. Cold compression therapy reduces tissue damage caused by swelling and inflammation and treats your foot pain quickly.
Cold compression therapy works by interrupting and slowing nerve and cell function in the damaged area. This is important because once blood vessels are damaged, they can no longer carry oxygenated blood to the plantar fascia and tissue cells begin to break-down.
The Plantar/Spur Freezie Wrap® allows you to treat yourself in an effective and convenient way and the deep cold provided by the Plantar/Spur Freezie Wrap® slows cell function thereby reducing cellular break-down. Furthermore, because the cold wraps serve to numb the nerves, the wraps also reduce pain!
The cooling gel pack inside every Freezie Wrap® have been designed with ColdCure Technology®. The specially formulated gel allows the pack to be supercharged in the fridge, not in the freezer like ice or other freezer packs. The Freezie Wrap® gives you deep cold compression therapy without the risk of 'cold burns' or cryoburn to the layers of your skin. This unique technology, inside a soft and completely adjustable neoprene wrap, gives you comfortable, convenient, and effective cold compression therapy.
Click here to learn more about ColdCure Technology®
Reducing the inflammation caused by your heel spur will help reduce the pain your are experiencing in your foot. Using therapeutic ultrasound over and around the area of your heel spur will will reduce your inflammation and also soften any scar tissue that may have formed in the damaged soft tissue.
As your damaged plantar fascia and other surround tissue begins to heal the body develops scar tissue instead of brand new healthy tissue.
Scar tissue is tough and fibrous making the fascia inflexible as it adheres to surrounding tissue causing pain and preventing your foot from moving properly (this limits your range of motion and strength). With less scar tissue, the normal elasticity in the plantar fascia and other tissue around your heel spur will return making it healthier, more flexible, and less prone to injury. In addition, less scar tissue build up means less foot pain. Ultrasound can also administer therapeutic medicines deep into the body through a process called phonophoresis.
For those who suffer from other conditions, such as tendinitis arthritis, bursitis, or muscle strain, ultrasound can help. With dedication to your ultrasound therapy you can soften the tough and inelastic scar tissue and reduce inflammation.
If you are also experiencing pain in other parts of your body, your plantar pain may be the cause. Plantar fasciitis can lead to other overuse injuries if left untreated. The pain can cause you to re-adjust your posture and change your gait to take weight off your sore foot. This can cause excess strain in your back, knees, hips, and ankles. The MendMeShop™ Ultrasound System can be used to treat all of your strains and tears, as well as other painful conditions like bursitis, tendinitis, and joint pain. It is a great tool to have on hand for so many soft tissue injuries!
Click here to learn more about Ultrasound Therapy
Enhance Your Ultrasound Treatments With Phonophoresis
When using an ultrasound unit, proper conductive ultrasound gel is required. Without it, the sound waves will not transfer into the tissue making the treatment ineffective. Although you will receive all the benefits of ultrasound therapy with standard ultrasound gel, medicated ultrasound gel can multiply the benefits without any extra time or effort. All you have to do is use medicated gel instead of standard ultrasound gel during your treatments.
Here's how it works! The sound waves carry the medicinal molecules found inside the gel deep into your tissue. This process is known as phonophoresis and it increases the healing power of therapeutic ultrasound.
Our exclusive MendMeShop® Lavender Infusion Gel is specially formulated with Natural Bulgarian Lavender, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, and Menthol. These ingredients have been used for centuries to reduce inflammation and relax tissue to speed healing. Now they are available in this incredible ultrasound gel to give you 2 therapies in 1 treatment. You get the benefit of the regenerating sound waves from the ultrasound device itself AND the added bonus of the therapeutic ingredients inside the gel being delivered straight to your heel spur and plantar fascia where it is most effective to reduce your foot pain and speed healing. And that's not all - our Lavender Infusion Ultrasound Gel is free of the potentially harmful ingredients of paraben, DEA, or dyes.
1 FREE bottle of MendMeShop® Lavender Infusion Ultrasound Gel comes with every MendMeShop™ Ultrasound System. If you have skin sensitivities or are sensitive to scents, you have the option of using our Non-Fragrant Ultrasound Gel with your MendMeShop™ Ultrasound System. Just like our Lavender Infusion Gel, it does not contain paraben, DEA, or dyes!
Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy™
Once inflammation and swelling have been reduced in your plantar fascia, nourishing and strengthening the tissue in your foot is the goal. Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy™ (BFST®) promotes blood flow to the treatment area bringing the necessary oxygen and nutrients to your plantar fascia and other weakened tissue. BFST® speeds up the body's natural repair process for faster healing and stronger tissue.
Extremities of the body, like the foot, do not receive much blood flow naturally and when you stop moving your foot because it hurts, you are not creating the natural blood flow it usually receives. With the use of Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy™ you can increase your body’s blood supply to the plantar fascia.
In addition, the fresh blood flow whisks away dead cells and toxins (including lactic acid, commonly found in trigger points) that have built up from the injury leaving the area clean and better prepared for healing. Our Plantar/Spur Inferno Wrap® provides effective, non-invasive, non-addictive pain relief with no side effects.
Keeping your planter fascia and foot as healthy and strong as possible throughout the healing process will allow you to get back to your regular activities faster. The Plantar/Spur Inferno Wrap®, available exclusively from MendMeShop®, provides effective, non-invasive, non-addictive pain relief and healing with no side effects.
The benefits of BFST® do not end once your foot pain stops! Even when your plantar fascia has healed, your activities can put it at risk of an overuse injury, tightness, or another tear. An Inferno Wrap® treatment before activity is an easy way to warm up the tissues and prepare them for use. Then, end your day with another treatment to prevent tightness from setting in overnight. This incredible healing tool will be the ticket to healthy feet for years to come!
Click here to learn more about BFST®
Other Conservative Treatments
Properly sized footwear (leave a 1/2 inch space between longest toe and inside of shoe) with significant arch support and motion control. Also, avoid running around barefoot, or on hard and uneven ground.
Corrective footwear, orthotics (insoles and arch supports) or other foot devices (walking casts, night splints) provide support and alignment.
Cushioning or supportive items, such as taping or donut-shaped heel cushions protect, reposition your foot, and relieve pressure pain.
Exercises that stretch and strengthen your foot (flexor digitorum brevis and quadratus plantae), ankle (achilles tendon) and leg muscles (soleus, gastrocnemius, hamstring) keep you balanced and flexible.
Gentle foot massage helps relax tissues; physio therapy, chiropractic care, reflexology and acupressure are effective in relieving tension, strengthening your foot and helping with alignment.
A balanced diet keeps your weight maintained.
Corticosteroid injections have been used but must be administered by a medical professional and involve some risks. Multiple steroid injections should be used sparingly as they weaken the plantar fascia and lead to a rupture.
Pain and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve some aches and pains but should never be used long team.
Heel or plantar fasciitis surgery (endoscopic plantar fasciotomy, open heel-spur fasciotomy) helps to relieve pressure, reduce pain and remove the calcium spur from the heel area. However, surgery is not a guarantee and there can be complications. If the plantar fascia is not repaired when the heel spur is removed, it is likely it will return.
Recovery from heel spurs can take between 6 weeks - 18 months, depending on the severity of your condition and your commitment to proper rehabilitation. The more dedicated you are with your treatments, the faster you will see successful, long-lasting results.
See Plantar Fasciitis for more detailed information.