A heel spur is a deposit of calcium on the calcaneus or heel bone forming an extra protrusion of small bone fragment on the heels. Heel spurs are only visible through X-rays wherein the result can show a bony protrusion by as much as half an inch on the underside of the heel.
The heel should normally be round and smooth so any presence of an extra protrusion can produce pain when the spur pushes through the soft structures in the foot as one walks. Nevertheless, heel spurs are more commonly painless and they only produce heel pain through time.
Heel spurs are highly preventable and knowing the causes of the condition will help people prevent its development or growth.
Causes of Heel Spurs
Heel spurs usually develop over a period of months and they commonly develop as a result of long-term injury to the heel bone and structures on the foot. Most commonly, heel spurs develop among athletes who frequently run and jump. More specific causes of heel spurs include:
- Presence of plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis or the tearing of the plantar fascia on the soles of the feet is a common cause of heel spurs. When the plantar fascia is torn, the point of injury is usually seen on the connection between the tendon and the calcaneus or the heel bone. During the development of plantar fasciitis, inflammation and further injury to the heel bone may eventually develop calcium deposits in the area as a compensatory mechanism for the soft tissue injury.
- Gait abnormalities and other problems on the feet
Abnormal gait and under pronation are also common causes of heel spurs. These place an excessive stress on the heel bone that promotes the abnormal calcification over time.
- Use of ill-fitting shoes
The use of ill-fitting shoes is another cause of heel spurs. When the arch of the foot is not properly supported or when the foot is fitted on a small shoe, the heels become tensed leading to heel spurs.
- Running and jogging on uneven and hard surfaces
Running and jogging on harsh surfaces can also lead to heel spurs as the heels are constantly exposed to tension and stress. In the same line, walking barefooted for a long time can also cause heel spurs because the heel bone constantly receive friction from the ground.
Aside from these specific causes, risk factors for the development of heel spurs may also include being overweight or obese, increasing age, and employing short, but intense foot activities leading to increased tension on the soles of the feet, the plantar fascia and the heel bone.
Symptoms of Heel Spurs
Heel spurs are usually asymptomatic wherein affected individuals wouldn’t know that there is really an overgrowth on their heels. However, some may experience intermittent and chronic pain on the heels during activities such as walking, running and jogging. The pain is usually a result of the inflammation around the heel bone where the spur compresses the underlying soft tissue.
The pain that is associated with heel spurs is described as stabbing or pricking early in the morning turning into a dull ache as the feet is used for walking. It is due to this pain that diagnosis of heel spurs are made after radiographic testing.
But more likely, heel spurs are left unnoticed because of the absence of pain. Nevertheless, preventing such through the use of appropriate shoes, maintaining an ideal body weight, and employing the right type of exercise can help prevent this otherwise asymptomatic condition.