Heel pain is frustrating and can be long-standing and difficult to treat without the right diagnosis and therapies available. As a lot of confusion exists around heel spurs and heel pain, we thought we’d answer the top misconceptions and questions we get around heel spurs:
A heel spur is a type of bony spur (outgrowth), or hard calcified area, that can develop on the bottom of the heel. Medically speaking, it’s called an osteophyte. It can look like a small spike or hook which faces the inside of the arch, following the same path as a soft tissue on the bottom of the heel called the plantar fascia.
Heel spurs develop in response to damage and strain to the soft tissues that insert at the bottom of the heel. Gradually, over many months, calcium deposits build up to form the spur. While the cause of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis heel pain have definite cross-overs, like excess pressure on the heel bone, abnormal foot biomechanics, worn-out or unsupportive footwear and increased exercise on hard surfaces, the two conditions are very different.
Heel spurs may also be caused by inflammatory arthritis, and may be encouraged by other problems like the breakdown of the fat pad of the heel.
No. While the terms plantar fasciitis and heel spurs are often used interchangeably, this is technically inaccurate, as, by definition, plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia tissue. The plantar fascia is a thick ligamentous band that runs from the bottom of the heel to fan out across your arch and insert into your toes. When the plantar fascia is damaged and inflamed, this is plantar fasciitis. We’ve shared all about the causes, symptoms and treatment of plantar fasciitis heel pain here.
Sometimes, but nowhere near as often as plantar fasciitis is the cause of heel pain. You do not have to have a heel spur to have heel pain, and if you do have a heel spur, it does not mean that you will experience any heel pain. Interestingly, it’s estimated that 10% of the population have a heel spur, whether they are aware of it or not. We see many radiographs of patients that don’t have heel pain but do have a heel spur, or that do have heel pain but do not have a heel spur.
When heel spurs do cause painful symptoms, they can often be effectively managed using a combination of supportive footwear, custom foot orthotics, and managing any resulting swelling. In less common cases, when conservative treatment is not effective in managing heel spurs, surgery may be indicated to remove the spur.