A heel spur (also known as an osteophyte or calcaneal spur) refers to a buildup of calcium deposits on the heel, marked by a pointed bony overgrowth (the calcaneus bone).
Heel spurs may be located at the back of the heel (dorsal heel spur) or under the sole beneath the arch of the foot (plantar heel spur). The dorsal heel spurs are often associated with Achilles tendonitis, whereas the plantar heel spurs are related to plantar fasciitis.
This condition is commonly caused by repetitive stress from walking, jumping, or running on hard surfaces. It may also develop over time if you are wearing poorly-supportive shoes.
Heel spurs occur when calcium deposits accumulate on the heel. It usually develops over time due to chronic wear-and-tear of the adjacent muscle or ligament. It is common among athletes who regularly jump and run.
Several underlying conditions may cause heel spurs to develop. This includes:
More than 50% of all cases of heel spurs occur in people who already have plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the plantar fascia at the bottom of the foot. This type of heel spur (plantar heel spur) develops under the sole (plantar area). Plantar heel spurs ted to trigger localized tenderness and pain that worsen when stepping down on the heel.
Heel spurs behind the heel (dorsal heel spur) are frequently associated with Achilles tendonitis – a painful inflammation of the Achilles tendon. It causes tenderness and heel pain that worsens while pushing off the ball of the foot.
Other potential causes of heel spurs include:
- Bruising of the heel
- Excess weight and obesity
- Poorly-fitted or worn-out shoes, especially those lacking appropriate arch support
- Gait abnormalities, which exert excessive stress on the heel
- Wearing flip-flops too often
- Running or jogging, especially on hard surfaces
- Trauma or bruising to the heel
- Old age
- Reactive arthritis (Reiter’s disease)
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis
Signs and symptoms
Heel spurs don’t always cause symptoms. But if they do, you may experience:
Chronic heel pain, inflammation, and swelling
The heel spur can trigger intermittent or chronic heel pain – especially while walking, running, or jogging – especially in the morning or after a resting period. The sharp pain may feel like a knife in the heel when standing up in the morning or after sitting for a prolonged period. The pain may then gradually fade into a dull ache that persists throughout the rest of the day. You may also experience inflammation and swelling around the heel area.
If the heel spurs occur at the bottom of the heel, the pain and inflammation can make it difficult to walk barefoot.
Warm to touch
Heat may radiate from the heel area, feeling warm to touch.
Eventually, a small and visible bony protrusion may form under the heel and extend towards the arch. It could be pointy or hooked.
Home remedies and lifestyle modification
Several home remedies and lifestyle modifications can help you manage your heel spur symptoms.
The pain associated with heel spurs may feel worse after a period of inactivity, as the heel ligament suddenly elongates when you get up and walk, which stretches and pulls on the heel. Brisk walking can decrease this pain. Take a brisk walk for 15-20 minutes and gently stretch your heels whenever possible to mitigate the heel spur pain.
The topical application of CBD oil on the area of the heel spur formation can help reduce chronic pain over long-term use. Apply it before going to bed or after physical activity to allow ample time for the CBD oil to soak into the heel.
You can apply certain essential oils onto the heels to naturally reduce pain and inflammation.
Some of the most notable pain-relieving essential oils include:
Combine the essential oil with a few drops of anti-inflammatory carrier oils such as coconut oil and olive oil before gently rubbing it into your heel.
Cold therapy may help relieve the pain and swelling of heel spurs. Use the cold compress after exercising and walking and leave it on for 10 minutes at a time. Repeat the application on an hourly basis while you’re away. This is especially relieving after a long day on your feet.
Over-the-counter pain medications
Heel spur symptoms may respond to treatment with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). These medications may help to reduce swelling and pain.
Orthotic shoe inserts
Orthotic shoe inserts are donut-shaped cushions that help give you arch support and take the pressure off the heel. In many cases, a functional orthotic insert can correct the underlying cause of heel spurs, such as biomechanical imbalances.
You can also opt for custom orthotics (molded shoe inserts) that are specially designed to fit your heel.
Wear supportive and well-fitting shoes with extra cushioning and thicker soles for additional support to relieve pressure on the heel. Here’s what to look for when choosing a shoe to accommodate the heel spur:
A shoe should have a gradual bend that has some resistance when your foot is bent or flexed. However, it shouldn’t be so easy to flex that it’s collapsible.
Firm heel support
The back “counter” of the shoe must be firm to support the heel. It should also prevent your foot from rolling inward or outward.
Slightly elevated heel
A shoe or insert that has a somewhat elevated heel (less than 1 inch) can help relieve the pressure off your painful heel.
Many people experience prompt relief with night splints. Wearing the night splints in bed can stretch the heel and keep you from pointing your feet down. These night splints are especially helpful in reducing heel pain that occurs upon waking up in the morning.
Massage deeply into the affected area of the heel to relieve pain. Place your thumbs at the centreline of your arch and gently move them to the outer edges of your feet. Alternatively, you can invest in a shiatsu foot massager.
Stretching can go a long way in helping you minimize strain and pressure on the heel spur. Continue doing the stretches consistently even after your heel feels better to prevent a recurrence.
Here are simple stretches that you can do to help ease your symptoms:
Foot flex is a simple stretch that you can do right when you wake up while you’re sitting up in bed. It loosens the plantar fascia.
- Sit with one leg crossed over the other.
- Then, reach for your foot and pull the toes toward your shin. Hold for 30 seconds, and then release the foot.
- Repeat the stretch five times on this foot, then repeat with your other foot.
Calf stretches provide a deep stretch in the calf and heel muscles. This helps to alleviate tightness in your feet and improves mobility.
- Stand an arm’s length away from the wall.
- Put one foot in front of the other. Lean forward and place your hands against the wall at shoulder’s height.
- Bend your knees and slightly push hips forward till you feel the stretch in your calves.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds and then straighten your legs. Repeat this stretch ten times, then switch your foot position, so the opposite foot is forward.
Golf ball roll
The golf ball roll stretch loosens up the plantar fascia along the bottom of your feet, helping to relieve heel pain.
- Roll a golf ball under your foot.
- Continue for up to 1 minute. Repeat with the other foot.
- Do each foot two to three times.
If you have heel spur discomfort that persists more than one month, consult your doctor. Medical treatments for heel spurs include cryoultrasound therapy and cortisone injections.
Cryoultrasound therapy uses a combination of electromagnetic energy and cold therapy to relieve pain from heel spurs.
Cortisone injections help to ease both pain and inflammation in the heel. However, limit the doses of cortisone injections you receive because it can increase the likelihood of tendon rupture.
The heel spur will always be there unless surgically removed. Nevertheless, it is usually not problematic and can be effectively treated with home remedies.