Heel Spurs: Causes, Symptoms and When to See a Doctor
Pain in your heel? It could be heel spurs. These tiny calcium deposits on the underside of your heel protrude out and cause inflammation of the tendons in your heel and the surrounding area.
But how do you know if your heel pain is due to a heel spur? Read on to learn more about the causes and symptoms of heel spurs and when you should see a doctor.
What causes heel spurs
Foot strain is the primary cause of heel spurs. When the foot muscles and ligaments are repeatedly stretched and strained – especially the plantar fascia, the fibrous tissue on the bottom of the foot – the risk of forming heel spurs increases.
Risk factors for heel spur formation include the following:
- Poorly fitting shoes without proper arch support
- Regular running or jogging on hard surfaces
- Walking with a gait that puts feet in an awkward position
- Obesity and excess weight
- Flat feet, or conversely, high arches
- High-intensity, frequent bursts of exercise or activity
- Standing for long periods of time in your daily routine
Heel spurs by themselves aren’t usually painful. In fact, many people who have them don’t even know it.
Instead, heel spurs irritate the plantar fascia, causing that area to become inflamed – an aching condition known as plantar fasciitis.
Symptoms of heel spurs
One major symptom of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis is a sharp, stabbing pain in the bottom of the foot when you first stand up in the morning. This usually subsides to a dull ache later in the day. The sharp pain can return if you’re off your feet for a while and then stand up again.
Other common symptoms of heel spurs are:
- A feeling of heat radiating off of the heel
- Tiny, hard protrusions that are visible or can be felt when you touch your heel
- A persistent, dull ache in the heel or arch
- A tender spot on the heel that can be felt while wearing shoes or going barefoot
- Swelling and inflammation around the heel
- Return of sharp pain shortly after running, jogging or other high-impact activity
Treatment options & when to see a doctor
If you’ve had heel pain for more than one month, then you should see your doctor. She can perform an x-ray, which is the only way to tell for sure if you have heel spurs or not.
The good news is that heel spurs rarely require surgery. Most symptoms can be treated effectively and affordably through these options:
- Custom-made shoe inserts – Your doctor may recommend that you get fitted for a pair of high-quality custom shoe inserts that alleviate pain from heel spurs and plantar fasciitis. These inserts can also be conveniently swapped out of one pair of shoes for another.
- Cold compresses – Ice works wonders for calming inflammation. Applying a cold compress to your heel for 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off for an hour or so can provide almost immediate relief for swelling and pain.
- Anti-inflammatory medication – Ibuprofen and other prescription anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling.
- Cortisone injections – If OTC or prescription medication isn’t effectively treating your heel spurs, your doctor may suggest cortisone injections. These localized shots are injected directly into joints to greatly reduce pain and swelling for a significant period of time.
- Physical therapy and stretching – Physical therapy is an excellent option for treating heel spur and plantar fasciitis. Through a set of specific, targeted stretches and corrective exercises, it’s possible for your heel pain to disappear completely.
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