Heel spur

Heel spurs are produced by tiny tears and areas of inflammation, which result in calcium deposits. This leads to painful heels. Heel spurs can usually be treated conservatively, without an operation.

What is a heel spur?

A heel spur (plantar fasciitis) is a thorn-like calcium deposit in the system of tendons and ligaments (plantar fascia) around the heel bone and sole of the foot.

How does a heel spur develop?

The tendons and ligaments that run along the inside of the sole of the foot are attached to the heel bone. This structure is known as the plantar fascia. If these tendons and ligaments are subject to excessive strain, they can develop tiny tears and areas of inflammation. The body deposits calcium there to stabilise such injury. This can lead to a bone-like heel spur.

Although heel spurs are usually only a few millimetres in size, they can cause pain in the heel. Given that heel spurs are the result of an inflammation of the plantar fascia, this condition is also known as plantar fasciitis. 

Causes

Possible causes of a heel spur include excessive strain on the heel and malposition of the foot. Playing sport without warming up beforehand and excessive weight can also promote the development of heel spurs. They most frequently affect people between the ages of 40 and 60.

Symptoms of a heel spur

The main symptoms of a heel spur include:

  • stabbing heel pain, triggered when a load is placed on the heel
  • pain on standing up after getting out of bed in the morning.

In its early stages, the pain normally disappears after the pressure being exerted on the heel stops. In its advanced stages, the pain may last for longer and can even occur when the foot is at rest.

Diagnosis

During a heel spur examination, the area where the tendons connect to the heel will be tested for sensitivity to pressure, because this sensitivity indicates plantar fasciitis. A heel spur diagnosis is confirmed using x-ray imaging.

Treatment

Treatment is usually possible without surgery. It is important to rest the affected heel. In acute cases, the inflammation is treated using local anti-inflammatory injections. Painkillers are used to control the discomfort caused by heel spurs. 

Special shoe insoles can reduce the pressure on the heel and prevent the heel spur from coming into direct contact with the ground. The calcium deposits can be broken down using high-frequency shockwave therapy (sound waves).