Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are a very common foot problem. When they're found in the heel they're called "heel spurs" but they can also develop near the toes and on the big toe joint. The spurs are small outgrowths of bone. In and of themselves, they are generally harmless. However, their location may cause friction or irritation from shoes or other foot structures, which can cause a quite a bit of pain and lead to other foot problems.
Bone spurs can develop from too much rubbing, pressure, or stress from a tight ligament or tendon, physical activities such as running or other sports, wearing poor fitting shoes, overweight, or from osteoarthritis. All of these factors can cause the bone to overproduce in an effort to repair itself.
Heel spurs develop when the plantar fascia (band of tissue along the bottom of the foot) stretches too much causing micro tears at the site of insertion. Later when this area repairs itself the excess bone build-up forms a spur.
Risk factors for heel spurs include:
- plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis
- running on hard surfaces or other high intensity sports activities
- unsupportive or badly worn shoes
- faulty foot mechanics such as flat feet or high arches
- excessive time spent on the feet particularly on hard surfaces
Heel spurs do not often cause symptoms. In fact they can go undetected for years until a podiatrist takes an X-ray when it becomes symptomatic. However, it's not the heel spur itself causing the pain but inflammation in the soft tissue right next to it. Symptoms are the same as those of plantar fasciitis including a sharp, knifelike pain in the heel of the foot first thing in the morning to a dull ache later on in the day.
Treatment for heel spurs is the same as treatment for plantar fasciitis including:
- stretching exercises including use of an Achilles splint during the day
- supportive shoes designed for your particular sport
- physical therapy
- anti-inflammatory medications, ice, or MLS laser therapy to decrease inflammation
More than 90% of the time the pain resolves with conservative treatment. Surgery can be performed to remove the bone spur to relieve the pain if it's not solved by these other means.
To prevent heel spurs from occurring it's important to purchase appropriate athletic shoes. At our office we recommend going to an athletic shoe store you trust like Super Jock N Jill or REI. Also, you can learn all about buying running shoes from my blog, "How to Buy the Best Running Shoes".
We also recommend using an Achilles splint during the day if you have very tight calf muscles and using Dynamic Warm-Ups before running or other athletic activities.
Finally it's important to increase your training time and distance slowly.
For more information about other causes of heel pain go to:
If you're having heel or other foot pain, you can make an appointment by calling us at 206-368-7000 or by requesting an appointment online.