What is a heel spur?
A heel spur is a calcium deposit in the heel produced as a result of excessive and continuous stretching of the plantar fascia, a ligament that connects the heel to the foot. It causes the heel bone to protrude very slightly. Some heel spurs are very small and difficult to pick up on an X-ray.
If it is not treated in time, the disease can become chronic, resulting in a very painful and difficult to cure condition.
What are the symptoms?
Often you can have a heel spur without symptoms. When symptoms do occur, the most common are pain and swelling in the area around the heel, and difficulty with putting your weight on your heel. The pain is usually felt on the inside on the heel and gets worse when you are active.
How is a heel spur diagnosed?
Diagnosis of a heel spur usually requires an X-ray examination to get a better view of the heel bone.
What causes heel spurs?
A heel spur is usually the result of:
- having a very arched foot, which can be the result of neurological injury or a genetic condition
- being overweight
- wearing poor-fitting shoes
- having poor posture while standing
How can heel spurs be prevented?
Even if you have a genetic condition that affects the structure of your foot, it is possible to prevent heel spurs by taking appropriate steps. You may require orthotic insoles or adapted shoes to properly support your foot.
All people can help avoid heel spurs by avoiding poorly-fitting shoes, and taking extra care to wear suitable footwear when doing sports. Finally, maintaining a healthy weight is important.
Spur treatments for the heel spur
Conservative treatment usually involves:
- the use of orthopaedic insoles that relieve the heel of tension
- wearing night splints
- stretching exercises
- anti-inflammatory medication
In the vast majority of people these treatments will improve symptoms. In some patients, however, surgery may be necessary to correct the spur and relieve pain caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia.
Which specialist should I see?
Podiatrists specialise in the examination, assessment, and treatment of foot problems. If you see your GP about a foot problem and they are unable to make a diagnosis themselves they are likely to refer you to a podiatrist. In the UK podiatrists are also known as chiropodists.
Depending on the treatment recommended, you may also see a physiotherapist or orthopaedic surgeon.