It is not possible to get rid of heel spurs without surgery. However, some figures suggest that heel spurs only cause pain in 5% of cases. If someone is experiencing heel pain, there may be another cause.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis, which occurs when the tissue that supports the arch of the foot becomes inflamed.
In this article, we look at what heel spurs are, how they relate to heel pain, and the treatments for heel pain.
Heel spurs are bony growths that extend from the heel bone to the arch of the foot. According to the AAOS, only 1 in 20 people with heel spurs will experience pain.
However, heel spurs do cause pain in some people. The symptoms of a heel spur can include:
- a bony protrusion
- tenderness on the bottom of the foot
Plantar fasciitis and heel spurs often co-occur. In 2012, researchers found that 89% of people with plantar fasciitis had heel spurs. Additionally, the authors of a 2015 review suggest that heel spurs may develop as a reaction to plantar fasciitis in some cases.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include:
- pain on the bottom of the foot, near the heel
- pain after a long period of rest or after sleep
- pain that gets worse when flexing the foot
- greater pain after, but not during, exercise
The only way to get rid of heel spurs entirely is by having surgery to remove the growths. However, doctors typically reserve surgery for cases that do not respond to any other treatments. According to the AAOS, surgery is a last resort because it can lead to chronic pain.
However, there are things that people can do to reduce heel pain and inflammation, such as:
- Rest: Activities in which a person’s feet hit a hard surface can make heel pain worse. A person with plantar fasciitis may temporarily need to reduce or stop activities such as running or aerobics.
- Cold therapy: Applying ice packs or rolling the foot over a cold water bottle for 20 minutes can help with foot pain by numbing the area and reducing swelling. A person can do this three to four times daily.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can help with acute pain, but these drugs are not suitable for long-term pain relief. NSAIDs are not safe for everyone, so it is best to check with a doctor before taking them.
- Exercises: A doctor may be able to recommend some exercises and stretches to relax tight muscles in the feet and calves. If these are ineffective, they may make a referral to a physical therapist, who can devise a specific exercise routine for relieving heel pain.
- Supportive shoes: A person with heel pain may benefit from cushioned shoes, silicone heel pads, or custom-made orthotics. A podiatrist can provide supportive shoe inserts.
- Corticosteroid injections: A doctor may recommend steroid injections to help reduce inflammation and pain. However, too many injections can cause further problems, such as chronic pain.
More than 90% of people with plantar fasciitis improve within 10 months using nonsurgical therapies. If plantar fasciitis is the cause of a person’s heel pain, they may find that these nonsurgical approaches help.
According to a 2015 review, physical therapy can help people with heel spurs improve their range of motion and keep their joints mobile. The AAOS recommend trying the following exercises for 4–6 weeks, under the supervision of a doctor.
To perform this stretch:
- Sit on the floor with the legs straight out in front.
- Wrap a towel around the ball of one foot and pull gently inward until there is a stretch.
- Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
- Repeat on the other foot.
Heel cord stretch
For this stretch:
- With the hands on a wall, place one leg forward with a slight bend in the knee.
- Place the other leg slightly behind the body and keep it straight.
- The heels should remain flat on the ground.
- Press the hips forward to feel a stretch in the calf and heel of the back leg.
- Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds.
- Switch the legs and repeat.
For this stretch:
- Sit on the floor with the feet flat on the ground and place a small towel in front of the feet.
- Grab the towel using the toes on one foot and bring it closer to the body.
- Relax the foot and then repeat 4 more times.
- Switch to using the other foot.
Golf ball roll
For this exercise:
- Sit in a chair and roll a golf ball under the painful foot.
- Continue for several minutes, without extending the leg too far from the chair.
- If the pain is in both feet, repeat with the other foot.
To perform this exercise:
- Sit in a chair with the feet not touching the floor.
- Write out the letters of the alphabet with the feet, using only small movements in the foot and ankle.
- Perform this exercise in one foot and then the other.
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, heel spurs occur due to muscle and ligament strain in the foot. Repeatedly tearing or damaging the membrane that covers the heel bone leads to hard calcium deposits building up over time.
Heel spurs can happen as a result of the repetitive stress that some high impact exercises, such as running, place on the feet. Other causes and risk factors include:
- Biomechanical imbalance: Tight muscles in the calf or foot, high arches, and gait abnormalities can lead to heel spurs. Shoes that do not support or fit the foot well may also contribute to their development.
- Obesity: A review article notes that two meta-analyses found that a higher body mass index (BMI) and heel spurs are associated with chronic heel pain.
- Age: According to a 2014 study, large heel spurs are more common in people over the age of 40 years.
- Other conditions: Heel spurs are associated with arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, as well as plantar fasciitis.
People can reduce the risk of heel pain by:
- wearing supportive shoes that fit well
- wearing shock-absorbing shoes when exercising
- warming up and stretching the legs and feet before exercise
- maintaining a moderate weight
Surgery is the only way to get rid of heel spurs entirely. However, as people with heel pain often have other conditions that cause pain, such as plantar fasciitis, they may find relief by following the general recommendations for reducing heel pain.
Rest, ice, NSAIDs, and physical therapy can help people with heel pain, and cushioned pads and shoes can reduce the impact of walking on the feet. In more severe cases, doctors may prescribe steroid injections or surgery.
People with heel pain should discuss their symptoms with their doctor, who can diagnose the cause of the pain and recommend the best approach.