What Are The Symptoms Of A Heel Spur?

August 30, 2023

A heel spur develops when there is an excessive growth in the heel bone, normally the result of an accumulation of excess calcium (a calcium deposit) underneath the heel bone. The typical length of a heel spur is around a quarter of an inch. Heel spurs are caused by long-term strain on the muscles and ligaments in the area. For example, repetitive stress on the heel from activities such as walking, jogging, or jumping on pavement or hard surfaces is a major cause of heel spurs. These spurs could also be caused by wearing worn-out shoes or from wearing flip flops too frequently. Individuals who have plantar fasciitis, arthritis, obesity, or walking gait issues are at an elevated risk of developing this foot condition. Heel spurs can be detected with imaging studies, and most cases are treated conservatively with ice, rest, orthotic shoe inserts, and physical therapy. Surgery is considered if other treatments have not worked.

The symptoms outlined below are experienced by many patients with heel spurs.

Inflammation And Swelling

The inflammation and swelling associated with heel spurs typically affect the front of the heel. As a heel spur worsens, the arch of the foot may also become inflamed and swollen. Patients might notice redness over the area, and it could feel slightly warmer than the surrounding tissue. Doctors can check for swelling by gently feeling the area. If inflammation and swelling are present, doctors often recommend patients take anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen. Some patients may need to receive injections of anti-inflammatories. The use of an ice pack is recommended to ease swelling. Ice packs can be made by freezing a gel pack or by placing ice cubes in a plastic bag. The pack should always be covered with a towel to prevent burns to the skin. Ice packs can be used as often as needed, and doctors suggest applying them for no more than twenty to thirty minutes at a time.

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Initial Sharp Pain

An initial sharp pain could indicate a heel spur or another foot condition. Most patients with heel spurs describe the pain as feeling like a knife or pin, and it often occurs when they first stand up after sitting for a while. However, fifty percent of patients with heel spurs do not experience any pain from them. Since foot pain can be due to a variety of medical issues, patients who notice a sharp pain in any area of their foot should visit a podiatrist or an orthopedist if the pain does not improve after a few days. The doctor will ask the patient questions about when the pain began and if any activities make it worse. They will also want to know about any remedies the patient has tried and if anything has reduced the pain. After completing the health history, the physician will assess the patient's heel and foot. They will gently press on the area to determine the location of the pain, and the patient might be asked to walk across the room or to perform certain movements with the toes or foot. In addition to pain medication, the specialist may recommend the use of orthotic shoe inserts or a course of physical therapy to minimize pain.

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Visible Protrusion Under The Heel

Many patients who have heel spurs have observed a visible protrusion under their heel. This protrusion is actually a calcium deposit, and it grows in an outward direction. Since these deposits can be very small, they might be difficult to detect in the early stages. For example, small deposits could be missed on x-rays. If a physician suspects the patient may have a heel spur, a CT scan is usually ordered to confirm this. CT scans can detect spurs that might be missed with other methods. In cases where the patient is in significant pain or the heel spur is debilitating, specialists could recommend surgery to remove the heel spur. An endoscopic plantar fasciotomy is usually performed for this purpose. After making an incision on each side of the heel, the surgeon inserts a camera into one of the sites to view the area. Once the spur is located, it is removed with a knife. The removal allows new fascia to grow in the space where the heel spur was. Patients will normally need to avoid using the affected foot for at least a week, and they are typically able to walk with minimal discomfort after three or four weeks.

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Chronic Aching Pain

As a heel spur progresses beyond the early stages, the sharp pain patients experience is often replaced by chronic aching pain. This pain could feel dull, and patients might notice throbbing. This type of pain could be made worse by the patient's choice of footwear. For example, the patient might notice an increase in aching after wearing shoes such as flip flops or other slip-on shoes that lack sufficient support for the heel and Achilles tendon. Aching might also be worse for patients who must stand for long hours at their workplaces. Individuals who have chronic pain may find it helpful to keep a symptom journal, and pain management clinics could provide additional support in conjunction with the patient's orthopedist. Patients should always let their healthcare team know if they experience any changes in the way their pain feels or if their pain becomes unmanageable.

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Walking Difficulties

Walking difficulties can present significant challenges for patients with heel spurs. For example, patients might struggle with going up and down stairs, and walking long distances might cause considerable pain. As the condition worsens, patients could find they are unable to exercise, and walking even a short distance could become impossible due to the pain. The walking difficulties associated with this ailment might create balance issues that could lead to falls, and this may be especially problematic for the elderly and individuals who have chronic medical conditions. Patients experiencing walking difficulties regularly should see a doctor for a complete evaluation. They should also ask about any walking aids such as walkers or canes that may be useful.

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