What is a Heel Spur?
The heel bone (known as the calcaneus) is the largest bone in the foot and performs crucial functions in our everyday life. The bone is anatomically structured to bear the weight of our body and optimised to evenly distribute that weight when walking/running, on either even or uneven surfaces.
Some patients can develop small bone growths on the heel, more commonly known as Heel Spurs. Mild cases can go undetected for long periods of time before clear symptoms become present.
However, long term wear and tear can lead to the patient developing severe pain and discomfort. In chronic cases this pain is unbearable, and a patient’s mobility is severely restricted.
There are serious consequences to a patient’s quality of life when this happens. More invasive i.e. non-surgical intervention may become necessary to alleviate symptoms.
Heel Spur Causes
A heel spur is a bony extension on the heel bone, the largest bone of the foot. The condition is a direct result of overloading the heel. There are several main factors that contribute to the development of this degenerative disease, including:
Intense Physical Strain on the Feet
Occupations that involve long hours of standing or walking around (e.g. people working in retail, warehouses) can lead to overloading on the feet. People whose jobs involve a rigid posture of the foot, like machine operators in the warehouses and factories are particularly vulnerable.
Incorrect footwear or wearing poorly fitted shoes can lead to uneven load distribution on the feet. In the long run, this increases the risk of wear and tear and the development of heel spurs.
- High-intensity sporting activities that place an excess load on the feet, such as rugby, tennis and running. Unhealthy proprioception can exacerbate the risk.
- Pre-existing conditions like Rheumatism and inherent malformations in the structure of the feet increase the risk of degeneration.
Heel Spur Symptoms
Long term wear and tear of the foot due to constant overloading and excess stress leads to inflammation of the heel bone. The body naturally reacts by creating calcium deposits in the inflamed area.
As the disease progresses the calcium deposits form bony structures. These heel spurs often have a wide variety of associated symptoms. Some of them include:
- A patient experiences some discomfort and slight pain in the heel. In mild cases when the growths first begin to appear, these symptoms are minute and are very manageable at this point, often resulting in a delayed diagnosis.
- Slight pain in the heel is common in the morning or after long periods of inactivity. This is known as “start-up” pain. The symptoms tend to disappear over the day.
- Heel Spur is a degenerative disease of the heel bone (Calcaneus). As the disease progresses the symptoms tend to become amplified, with the patient’s pain more pronounced and persistent throughout the day.
- The skin surrounding the affected heel begins to feel sore and becomes red.
- In the long run, a patient’s mobility is severely restricted. There is a sharp pain in the heel even without any pressure on it.
Most patients with heel spurs are on average between 40 and 60 years old. The condition is more common in men than in women.
Diagnosis of Heel Spurs
An orthopaedic specialist is the best medical practitioner to seek advice when suspecting heel spurs.
A thorough physical inspection and patient history help the doctor to understand the risk factors on an individual basis.
Imaging technology such as X-rays can be used to determine the location and progression of the bone growths on the heel bone.
Heel Spur Treatment
Treatment for heel spur is centred around alleviating the symptoms and taking measures to prevent the progression of the condition. A useful guide that has been proven effective is:
Relieve the Foot
It is crucial to relieve the foot from the excess stress it is under throughout the day. Wearing comfortable and well-padded shoes on a daily basis helps provide ample support and prevent undue stress on the foot.
Sturdy footwear can also help one to practice healthy proprioception, which has long term benefits.
Reducing your body weight and combating obesity helps reduce the load on the feet and greatly reduces the strain on the heel bone.
If there is significant inflammation in the feet, patients often find the use of prescribed anti-inflammatory and analgesics beneficial when directed by their doctor for temporary relief.
Mild cases are often managed conservatively with drug therapy. In advanced patients with chronic symptoms, local injections are more effective but often uncomfortable.
It is highly recommended that the muscles in the calf and foot are regularly exercised to build strength.
Developing these muscles can help reduce the stress on the bone as well as combat the progression of the condition. Multiple sessions a day for a few months can rapidly improve a patient’s prognosis.
Practising healthy proprioception and prioritising a good warm-up before any training can go a long way in recovery.
Medical Orthopaedic Insoles
Optimally shaped medical insoles are very effective as both a preventative measure and to slow down the degeneration of the Calcaneus (heel bone).
The insoles help protect the foot from excess stress, as well as any unnatural movements beyond the natural range of motion, i.e. against overloading and over-stretching.
The insoles can also serve as a comfortable cushion for patients with inherent malformations in the structure of the foot.
Only in rare cases of heel spurs does surgery become necessary. Most cases of the condition are managed conservatively. Some patients might require surgery to correct the excess bone growth to restore structure and mobility to the foot. Surgery is a risky procedure and is usually the last resort to provide relief to a patient.
How to get rid of Heel Spurs?
Medical shoe insoles like the ErgoPad Redux Heel 2 and the ViscoSpot Heel Cushion can work wonders to alleviate the symptoms and pain of heel spurs. Both insoles are flexible and slimline, incorporating a recess in the heel. This takes the pressure off the affected area and helps relieve pain and discomfort.
The ErgoPad Redux Heel 2 utilises a special foam padding system in conjunction with a spring system to take all pressure off the heel, with a met-dome and gentle arch support helping guide the foot to prevent further deterioration.
The ViscoSpot Heel Cushion uses a multi-layered gel of varying densities to cushion the heel in milder cases, which also lifts it to redistribute pressure across the stronger parts of the foot.