A heel spur is a commonly occurring condition, characterised by accumulation and eventual lump formation of thick calcium deposits, in the region encompassing the heel and the arch of the foot.
Medically termed as calcaneal spurs or osteophytes, they present as prominent protuberances at the base of the feet. Heel spurs can form in various shapes and sizes, including in a sharply pointed, hook-like or ridged outline. This extra mass of tissue usually arises in the area of the feet known as the plantar fascia, which lies between the bottom heel portion and the middle or arched part of the foot.
The defining features of heel spurs is the pain and inflammation experienced by the affected individual all-day long in either one foot at a time, or both feet simultaneously, similar to plantar fasciitis. However, heel spurs invariably give rise to bulging calcium deposits in the feet along with discomfort, while plantar fasciitis only prompts foot pain and does not result in any calcium buildup in the heels.
Also Read: Plantar Fasciitis: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Causes Of Heel Spurs
One reason behind heel spurs is old age. With the gradual ageing process, the protective capacity of tissues in heals declines and loses its potential to absorb shocks, sudden and prolonged pressure. This leads to the formation of heel spurs with significant calcium masses on feet.
Furthermore, a severe tear in the membrane that shields the heel bone also exposes the inner connective tissue, making it prone to injury and resulting in calcaneal spurs.
The soft tissues in the heels, in certain circumstances, undergo the extreme strain of the interior muscles, ligaments. Examples include wearing high heels for long periods, walking extensively while suffering from obesity, or performing complex athletic, dance, acrobatic motions in footwear with unevenly raised surfaces. This also triggers situations of heel spurs.
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The distinguishing indications of calcaneal spurs or heel spur consist of the following:
- Stabbing pain in the base of the foot in the morning
- Mild discomfort in the feet for extended periods of time
- A palpable hot sensation arising from the feet
- A very noticeable hardened, bulging mass of tissue beneath the heel
- Difficulty while moving around barefoot, with prominent aching
- Reddening, inflammation in the heels, with muscle cramps in legs
- Inability to wear tight socks, shoes comfortably
The orthopaedic doctor examines the heel bone and feet externally to look for any rigid protrusions. Then, an X-ray of both feet is performed, to analyse the structure, arching of the bottom surface and see if any bony outgrowths can be spotted.
A podiatrist will also test for the ability to stand erect for a prolonged phase, as well as the strength and support provided by the feet while walking, jogging and balancing the body on one leg.
In case the patient has been experiencing a very high intensity of pain in both feet, then additional blood tests to gauge any underlying debilitating conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis is also carried out.
In case the pain experienced by the patient with heel spurs is very unbearable, then the doctor prescribes steroid medications to alleviate discomfort and swelling. In addition, physical therapy sessions are recommended to provide effective relief from aching in feet, particularly when it occurs throughout the day or for weeks, months at a stretch.
The physician generally advises the patient to take ample rest and apply a cold compress to the swollen feet at regular intervals, if the pain is constant, but not too severe. Orthopaedic shoe inserts or support structures are also provided by the medical expert, to insert into footwear, which remarkably balances the feet, lower pain by heel spurs, for normal activities like travelling to work, taking a walk.