A heel spur is a bony growth that protrudes from the calcaneus bone. They occur as a result of chronic, localised inflammation, where the ligaments meet the bone. The spurs can form underneath the heel if the Plantar fascia is inflamed, and on the back of the heel if it is the Achilles tendon that is inflamed. Heel spurs usually form as a result of repetitive athletic strain, but can also be brought on by an inflammatory disease, such as reactive arthritis.
Heel spurs cannot be seen with the naked eye, so the first sign that you may have them is a sharp, needle-like pain when getting up in the morning or after a long period of sitting. Heel spurs are officially diagnosed using either ultrasound or x-rays, at which point your doctor will determine the cause and course of action.
In some very rare cases, surgery may be required to treat a spur, but over 90% of people will be able to relieve pain and tackle the spur with home treatments. The most fundamental aspect of treating spurs is to reduce inflammation, so applying ice to the affected area is a good place to start. You can do this by applying an ice pack or ice in a tea towel (never apply ice directly to your skin) to the heel, or by rolling a frozen bottle of water under your foot. Ice the area for no longer than 15 minutes, leaving at least an hour between icing treatments.
Anti-inflammatory medication can also be used to relieve pain while you wait for the inflammation to go down, but always be sure to read the instructions and stick to the limits on the packaging.
For long-term relief, and to prevent the spurs from reoccurring in the future, you will need to use a combination of behavioural changes and stretches. Both Achilles tendonitis and Plantar fasciitis are forms of overuse injuries that occur when an individual walks, runs, jobs, climbs, or jumps too frequently without a proper warm up. In this instance, behavioural changes could mean practicing your chosen sport less, or just devoting more time to a more thorough warm up. To learn what stretches can help you with Achilles tendonitis or Plantar fasciitis, check out this blog.
Another way to relieve pain and promote healing in the area is to wear a shoe-insert. Orthotics, or even just standard insoles, can take a lot of pressure off the spur and the tendon that caused it to form, acting as both a short and long term solution. These are a must-have for people who spend a lot of time on their feet, such as wait or retail staff. But if you think your spurs formed as a result of the sport you play, then you need to make sure that you choose the right sports shoe.
A heel spur may not be the most dangerous of conditions, but it can still be a painful and disruptive one. Fortunately, for the overwhelming majority of people, the instructions above will be sufficient to treat and prevent heel spurs. But if you find that your pain is extreme or persistent, you should visit your doctor, who will be able to determine if you need a more aggressive course of treatment.