When you live surrounded by mountains, you are familiar with the concepts of spurs and ridges—those sections of high ground that slope away from the sides of a mountain. You may not be as familiar with the concept of heel spurs. You don’t see them because they occur inside your foot, but the principle is similar. For various reasons, your body forms a deposit of calcium called a spur that protrudes away from your heel bone.
Two Causes of Spurs and Heel Pain
The pointy extensions of calcium can form over a period of time on two separate areas of the heel bone: the first is under the front part of the calcaneus, where the plantar fascia attaches, and the second is at the back where the Achilles tendon attaches.
Plantar fasciitis is the most common condition associated with heel spurs. The plantar fascia is attached under the calcaneus and fans out to attach to the toe bones under the ball of your foot. This ligament helps hold your arch in position, but can be damaged through repetitive actions like running and jumping.
As it becomes weaker, it stretches while you are active during the day, and then contracts while you rest at night (often with your toes pointed, which shortens the fascia). Then when you first stand again in the morning, it is stiff and tight. It pulls against the lining of the heel bone, and the calcaneus defends itself by forming new calcium cells to extend the bone against this pressure.
The same thing happens when a tight Achilles tendon pulls against the back of the heel bone. Over time, these spurs lengthen. They may not be painful in themselves, but if they irritate the surrounding tissue, it can become inflamed, resulting in heel pain.
Do Heel Spurs Require Surgery?
In years past, it was thought that these spurs should be removed, but studies have shown that many times people with such spurs never have symptoms at all. In fact, you might have one and not even realize it unless you are X-rayed for some other injury and it shows up. These days, surgery is not usually recommended unless the spur is actually damaging the soft tissue around it or causing direct pain.
Rather, treatment for heel pain now usually involves resting, icing, and possibly medications to reduce pain and inflammation. Along with these, stretches and strengthening exercises can help keep the tendons and ligaments supple and strong. Custom orthotics can also help to redistribute pressure on your feet and correct biomechanical issues that are causing increased tension on the bands of connective tissue. If you are older and your heel pad has begun to thin, shoes or inserts with good heel cushioning can alleviate your discomfort. Usually, your heel pain will respond well to these conservative treatments and no surgery is necessary.
Can I Prevent Heel Spurs from Forming?
It may be possible to head off the formation of these calcium deposits with some home care methods. Start by always choosing shoes that provide support for the heel, rigid shanks under the arch, and plenty of cushioning. Don’t wear shoes after they are worn down and no longer provide these supports. Make sure they are right for the activity you will be doing, too.
Always take time to warm up and do dynamic stretches before any activity. Keeping your muscles toned and your tendons and ligaments limber will go a long way toward avoiding damage. Losing extra weight will also help reduce the pressure on the plantar fascia. Prompt treatment of plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis may also prevent heel spur formation.
If you need more self-care tips for your feet, or are suffering from a painful foot problem, don’t hesitate to contact Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center in Wheat Ridge, CO, by calling (303) 423-2520 or requesting an appointment through our website. We also have offices in Golden, Evergreen, and Granby. We are experts at diagnosing your foot issues and finding conservative or surgical solutions that get you back in action. Call us today!
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