Heel Spurs: Symptoms, Causes & In-Home Physical Therapy
A foot condition that is commonly associated with plantar fasciitis and can often cause foot pain, heel spurs occur in roughly 38% of the population.
At MovementX, our team of specialized physical therapists is available via telehealth, in-home, or outdoor care to help people with heel spur pain manage symptoms, reduce discomfort, improve mobility, and get back to enjoying life.
Learn more about heel spurs: the symptoms, causes, and treatment options, and discover how in-home physical therapy can be an effective treatment option for patients looking to support their recovery time and reach their movement goals.
What Are Heel Spurs?
A heel spur or bone spur (less commonly known as a calcaneal spur) is a condition where a bony-like calcium deposit protrudes on the underside of the foot, between the heel and the arch, called the plantar fascia.
Growing up to half an inch, a heel spur can affect other parts of the foot and sometimes cause heel pain, although not all heel spurs cause pain and not all heel pain is caused by a heel spur.
Heel Spurs vs Plantar Fasciitis
While they are closely related, the difference between heel spur and plantar fasciitis is that plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia ligament is overused, overstretched, strained, or torn, causing inflammation where the plantar fasciitis connects to the heel.
Additionally, having plantar fasciitis can increase the risk of developing a heel spur. The inflammation and stress caused by plantar fasciitis can prompt the body to respond by building extra bone tissue, which eventually becomes a heel spur.
A general distinguishing rule between the two is that plantar fasciitis will often go away on its own, while a heel spur is permanent.
Heel Spur Symptoms
Depending on the level of inflammation and injury to the soft tissue surrounding the calcium deposit, some heel spurs cause no symptoms at all, while others result in a sharp, knife-like pain experienced first thing in the morning.
In general, symptoms of a heel spur include:
- An occasional sharp pain (often experienced when first standing up after long periods of sitting or lying down)
- A dull, enduring pain throughout the day
- Swelling at the front of the heel
- The area is warm to the touch
- A small, visible bony protrusion
- No symptoms at all
What Causes Heel Spurs?
Developing slowly over time, heel spurs are caused by repetitive stress and strain on the foot ligaments and tendons.
Increased risk factors include:
- Athletic activities, especially on hard surfaces, including walking, running, and jumping
- Underlying conditions or circumstances like arthritis, obesity, plantar fasciitis, and age
- Improper footwear, including poor heel or arch support, incorrect size, and worn-out cushioning
- Walking gait abnormalities that place stress on the heel
- Trauma or bruising to the heel
Heel Spur Diagnosis
While a bony protrusion might be a visible indicator of a heel spur, for a medical diagnosis, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and use a diagnostic imaging tool, like an X-ray, to make an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment for Heel Spurs
Potential treatments for heel spurs include:
Resting and alleviating pressure from the feet can help reduce pain and swelling while also speeding up recovery time.
Similar to rest, treating a heel spur with ice or a cold compress helps ease heel pain and reduce swelling. Cold is recommended over heat because it is more beneficial for joint and muscle aches.
Physical therapy and at-home exercises can help stretch and condition sore muscles and tight ligaments, preventing further injury and supporting pain management. In working with a physical therapist, together you will develop treatment options that are right for you, getting you back to moving and enjoying life. At-home stretching exercises for heel spurs might include calf stretches against a wall or steps, rolling a tennis ball under your foot, and towel grabs.
Many heel spur sufferers find wearing orthotic shoe inserts or cushioned shoes can help support your arches and relieve pressure off the heel, reducing pain.
Anti-inflammatory medication for swelling and over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for acute pain are also common treatment options for heel spurs.
In some cases, if over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication is not strong enough, corticosteroid injections can be used to reduce swelling and pain throughout the foot.
If heel spur pain is severe and ongoing, surgery may be necessary to remove the heel spur and restore pain-free mobility. Occasionally heel spur surgery also involves releasing the plantar fascia.
Preventing Heel Spurs
Some people are more at risk for heel spurs than others, but the most common preventative measures include attention to the daily stress put on your feet, seeking medication attention if heel pain develops, and wearing appropriate shoes that absorb shock and support the foot.
Heel Spur Recovery
If you are struggling with heel spur pain, sign up now to request care with a specialist who can treat your needs. Receive care at home, in your office, at the gym, or stop by one of our local clinics.
At MovementX, our highly specialized physical therapists and personal trainers are here to support you on your journey towards better movement health.
Connect with a MovementX provider today.