An introspective look into what heel spurs are, what causes them, how they affect you and how you can deal with them.
What are Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs are bony protrusions that develop at the base of your heel, usually in and around the area of attachment of your ligaments found at the base of your feet. These protrusions develop from calcium deposits that build up and calcify over a period of time.
Meaning that this condition is by no means acute in nature. You could have a heel spur right now and not know that you do. Most people only realize that they have a heel spur when they experience one or more symptoms related to the condition.
Pain in the heel area of the foot? Is the pain localized to when you wake up in the mornings or after you’ve completed your daily five mile run? Does it get worse when standing for prolonged periods of time, or when you wear certain pairs of shoes?
Now, I know most of you are thinking: Yep, that is plantar fasciitis! That’s my final answer, I don’t want to call a friend!” Well, I regret to inform you that you are the weakest link, good bye!
Jokes aside, you were completely right in your thinking. But sometimes the obvious answer isn’t the only answer. Because what you might be experiencing is a condition called heel spurs.
What Causes Heel Spurs?
Heel spurs are caused by trauma. It’s as simple as that, repetitive trauma that leads to tissue damage. The types of tissues affected by this condition are either ligaments or tendons and in this case it affects the connective tissues of the base of the foot.
That being said, when our body experiences this type of repetitive damage, our body responds to said trauma by trying to heal and repair the area in question. Calcium deposits accumulate in the area in effort to rebuild the compromised tissue. These deposits eventually calcify and form these bony protrusions known as heel spurs.
Signs and Symptoms of Heel Spurs
The main symptom of heel spurs is an intermittent pain that can become chronic in and around the area where the heel spur has formed. In most cases the actual heel spur doesn’t cause the painful symptoms, it is actually the damaged connective tissue around the affected area that is presenting these symptoms.
Another symptom that is associated with heel spurs is inflammation that may present with swelling. Other than these two symptoms heel spurs tend to present similarly to that of plantar fasciitis. Symptoms such as pain in the heel area upon waking as the plantar fascia suddenly elongates and pulls on the bony heel spur.
This sensation dissipates as you keep moving and blood flow increases to the area. As you can see, very similar if not identical symptoms to that of classic plantar fasciitis.
What is the Difference Between Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis?
The fundamental difference between heel spurs and plantar fasciitis is timing. The timing of the progression of the condition will dictate whether the symptoms you are experiencing are because of plantar fasciitis or due to a heel spur that has formed.
The symptoms and the presentation of these conditions are very similar. And that is why people confuse heel spurs with plantar fasciitis. And this is where the timing factor comes into consideration. This is because plantar fasciitis will almost always precede the onset of heel spurs.
Meaning that in most cases untreated or mismanaged plantar fasciitis leads to heel spurs. This isn’t always the case because these conditions can occur independently of each other, but more often than not the tissue damage associated with plantar fasciitis leads to the formation of heel spurs.
How Do I Treat Heel Spurs?
First things first, you will need an accurate diagnosis to verify whether or not an actual heel spur has formed. The easiest and most cost effective option would be an x-ray. As always we highly recommend that you consult your primary care physician or orthopedic specialist.
After verifying your condition with your doctor, you will need to decide on a course of treatment. The courses you can follow are the conservative treatment route, which most people do. Or the interventional approach to treatment which for the most part, involves some form of invasive surgical procedure.
Contrary to popular belief, rest is not the best treatment all the time. And before any of you weekend warriors come for in the comment section just hear me out. Rest in all other situations is definitely one of the priorities that help assist with a successful recovery process.
However, with heel spurs rest can actually make it worse. This is because of the type of tissue fibers that are involved in this condition. The tissues affected by heel spurs are predominantly fascia and other rigid connective tissue, which means that they have limited blood supply. Now go ahead and add in a lack of movement, said blood supply will decrease even further.
Resulting in stiffness and delayed replenishment of vital nutrients needed to assist with the healing process. Yes, I know. All your Google doctors tell you that rest is the best medicine. But trust me on this one, if you want to get back on the road running again, you need to keep moving.
In a nutshell, rest is bad for heel spurs and movement, despite it feeling counterproductive, is cardinally important to ensure healthy recovery. Which leads us to our final section of this article…
Conservative Treatment Options for Heel Spurs
Invasive Treatment Options for Heel Spurs
Surgical removal of the heel spur is non-conservative treatment option. It isn’t a drastic procedure by any means and the general prognosis is usually positive.
However it is our opinion, that this should be your last option. When all the conservative treatment methods prove to be ineffective. And you find yourself sidelined from your running struggling with severe pain or discomfort. That’s when invasive treatment options should be explored. But just as we always do, we recommend that you consult your primary care physician or specialist surgeon to explore your treatment options.
Our final thoughts…
Heel spurs is a condition that is quite often misdiagnosed and may lead to an extended period on the sidelines. This is due to the similarities between plantar fasciitis and heel spurs with regards to their presentation. And this connection isn’t coincidental either, as in most cases untreated plantar fasciitis can lead to the development and formation of heel spurs.
But luckily for you guys, the prognosis isn’t at all negative and in 90% of cases conservative treatment resolves issues associated with this condition.
However, in a select few the conservative approach isn’t enough, and that is when you’ll need to consult your primary care physician to explore more invasive treatment options.
That being said, the best advice we can give you guys today is to not ignore your body. Your body will give you signs as to when you need to slow down. I know we are all driven and we want to go after it, all the time. But in this case, some rest before all these complications can save you months and months of recovery and rehabilitation.