Heel spurs are tiny protruding calcium deposits that can develop near the base of your heel bone. They can be caused by repetitive activities, such as dancing or running, or they can form in association with plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the ligament (plantar fascia) on the bottom of your foot. When the plantar fascia is tight and pulls on your heel bone, the bone releases calcium to try to heal itself. The excess deposits of calcium can sometimes form heel spurs.
If you’re feeling pain on the bottom of your foot near your heel, pain after exercise or activity, or pain first thing in the morning or after a long period of sitting, then you may have a heel spur. Heel spurs don’t have a magic cure, but you can take steps to ease the pain and to eventually get rid of them
What Is A Heel Spur?
A heel spur is a deposition of calcium on the bone that forms the underside of the heel. The deposition may be in the form of one small bony projection or even as a collection of tiny, irregular shaped growths on the calcaneum, the bone of the heel.
Heel spurs are also known as osteophytes and are not all painful. Most people develop heel spurs at a certain part of their life but they never realize it due to the lack of pain or any other symptom. Due to the limited knowledge about heel spurs, a common misconception often arises where a painful heel spur is mistakenly assumed to be plantar fasciitis.
While a heel spur, as explained above, is merely the presence of an extra outcrop on the bony surface, plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia – A dense connective tissue band that extends from the heel bone (the calcaneum) to the heads of the metatarsal bones, thus forming a tie for the support of the arch on the bottom of your foot.
Strain on the plantar fascia leads to its irritation and swelling and the subsequent weakness of the arch. This leads to pain at the back of the heel. On the other hand, a heel spur is observable by an X-ray and is painful only when inflammation develops in the tissues surrounding it.
What Causes The Formation Of Heel Spurs?
When the heel of a person’s foot is subjected to constant wear and tear, as is usual in most athletes, runners or even people who begin walking or jogging daily after years of no exercise, the process of bone formation is initiated. This process is very natural, and occurs in other parts of the body as well, even in tissues that are subjected to a high amount of friction.
To protect the surrounding tissues of such areas from repetitive damage and tension, cells specialized to form bone (osteoblasts) migrate to such sites and start depositing calcium, leading to the formation of heel spurs.
Signs And Symptoms Of Heel Spurs
More often than not, heel spurs present with absolutely no signs or symptoms, including a lack of pain. This is because, contrary to popular belief, heel spurs are not pointy or sharp pieces of bone that cut tissue like a dagger every time movement occurs. Heel spurs are actually depositions of calcium on bone carried out by the body’s normal bone forming mechanisms.
This means that they are smooth and flat like all other bones. However, since there is already tissue present at the site of its formation, sometimes that and the surrounding tissue can get inflamed, leading to a handful of symptoms such as intermittent or chronic heel pain felt most while jogging or walking.
Another cause of heel spur pain is the formation of new fibrous tissue around the bony spur to act as a cushion over the area of stress. As this tissue grows, a callus forms and takes up even more space than the heel spur leading to lesser space for the dense surrounding network of tendons, nerves, ligaments and supporting tissue.
This can cause compression of either of the aforementioned structures, leading to swelling and redness of the foot and deep throbbing pain that is worsened on exercise. The pain caused by heel spurs is usually described as a sharp, stabbing pain when using the foot after a night or prolonged rest. On further use, however, it reduces to a dull throb of pain that can worsen if activities like jogging or jumping further jostle the irritated foot.
What Are The Risk Factors For Developing Heel Spurs?
The people who are most in risk for developing heel spurs include:
- Athletes that engage in excessive walking, running and jumping. For example, football players or tennis players who have to be on their feet constantly.
- People who wear worn out shoes or shoes that are too tight, exposing the heel to do more than normal force absorption.
- Women who are accustomed to wear tight shoes with high, uncomfortable heels and have to walk around all day. The pressure developed at their heels is at a maximum.
- People with flat feet or high arches of the feet.
- People with abnormalities in their gait that can cause abnormally increased pressure on the heel.
- Pregnant women, whose heels have to carry more weight than they are accustomed to.
- Obese or overweight people whose heels have to support a humongous amount of body fat.
- People who live in areas of irregular topography like mountain sides, who have to walk, jump and climb on rocky terrain on a daily basis.
- People who begin excessively jogging or walking to lose weight after a prolonged period of not doing so.
How Are Heel Spurs Usually Treated?
People who develop painful heel spurs are usually prescribed a lot of rest, icing, stretching exercises and anti-inflammatory medications. However, it is very difficult to go through without any routine activities at all. Most patients in fact still carry on with their work or daily activities after consulting the doctor for treatment.
Therefore, they have to continue their treatment with anti-inflammatory medications which after prolonged use can cause side-effects such as gastrointestinal problems, ulcers and bleeding.
Even with physiotherapy and medications, pain can persist in some people who can then opt for the administration of a steroid injection. However, due to the abundance of structures in the heel, it is a tricky place for an injection and can easily malfunction causing worsening of the original symptoms and fat necrosis.
In some cases, heel spurs can be removed by surgery after taking an x-ray and while the surgery is mostly effective, most people are hesitant in spending the time and money required for what they perceive a relatively mild ailment. Nevertheless, even with surgery heel spurs can repetitively reform if the conditions are kept constant. It is due to these reasons that most people who develop painful heel spurs begin looking for natural remedies for heel spur pain relief.
12 Natural Treatments For Heel Spur Pain Relief
Most people decide to opt for natural treatments of for relief of pain from heel spurs as they have contrastingly fewer side effects and are much easier to incorporate into daily life as compared to the time draining and financially taxing treatments that doctors usually offer. Here is a list of natural treatments to choose from for your achy heels.
- Natural anti-inflammatory substances
Substances such as ginger and turmeric that are naturally occurring and have anti-inflammatory effects can be used in place of NSAIDs or other medication. Apart from being just as effective as these drugs, they have also fewer side effects. Therefore, they can be used for prolonged periods of time and without change of lifestyle as athletes usually need. Just take one or two 500 mg tablets of ginger about 3 to 4 times a day or 400 mg of turmeric daily.
- Vitamin B-12
Low levels of Vitamin B-12 in your body can lead to various bone problems and has been associated with heel pain. You can either increase the amount of shell fish or liver in your diet or take Vitamin B-12 supplements to help your heel spur pain relief. As a plus point, Vitamin B-12 keeps your mind alert and your body full of energy.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of nature’s strongest suits against inflammation. You can take cod liver oil tablets that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids daily for relief from pain and irritation.
- Ice packs
Used for any and every sort of inflammation, try icing your heel as soon as you feel pain after a day of rigorous activity. For better covering of the arch of your foot, try rolling a frozen bottle of water under your feet. Ice packs are also recommended for relief from the heel spur pain.
- Warm baths with Epsom salt
Warm baths are generally soothing to the body and are a treat after a hard day at work. Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) has various miraculous properties when it comes to relieving pain and inflammation. Add about a cup of Epsom salt to a warm bath and gently massage your heels to alleviate pressure.
- Borax solution
Borax solution is a mixture of borax and chlorinated water that is commonly available. Fill a small tub with warm water and mix borax solution and soak your heels in it for some time. You will experience rapid relief from heel ache and swelling.
- Herbal poultice
An herbal poultice is as miraculously healing as it sounds. You can use cabbage leaves or mustard, warm them in hot water and apply damp leaves or crushed mustard around the affected area. Not only does the pain disappear, the poultice also improves circulation.
- Apple cider vinegar
Already known for its anti-inflammatory properties in the gastrointestinal tract when consumed in small quantities, apple cider vinegar can also be used in warm towel application around the foot to drain the away the pain and discomfort.
- Oil massage
Warm oil massages are extremely beneficial for your feet even under normal circumstances. If you suffer from heel spur pain, warm up a small amount of coconut or olive oil and deeply massage into the heel. You can also use aloe vera to do so. The warm oil will comfort your heels and keep them safe from effects of excessive wear and tear.
- Herbal tea
Natural green tea made of herbs such as Alfalfa leaves have anti-oxidant properties that fight inflammation and boost immunity. Drink regularly to reduce pain and prevent further formation of heel spurs.
- Molasses, baking soda and apple cider vinegar
Mix a small amount of molasses with baking soda and apple cider vinegar to form a warm plaster around your foot. It may be hot and sticky but it is one of the most efficient home remedies against heel spurs!
- Flaxseed and linseed oil
Flaxseed and linseed oil are derived from the same plant and contain alpha-linolenic acid, a form of omega-3 unsaturated fatty acid. Dip a cloth in warm oil and wrap around affected foot. To further stabilize the dressing, envelope with plastic wrap and keep warm.
These were some natural treatments for the relief of heel spur pain. As with everything else though, prevention is better than cure. If you think that you are at risk for developing heel spur, take special care of your heels by regular oil massages and vitamin supplements.
Wearing the right running shoe is one best way to protect your feet
Make sure to avoid wearing ill-fitting, tight or irregular shoes. Try using only joggers if you plan for walking or running exercises. Sandals, canvas shoes, heels or sling back shoes can be damaging to the sole and heel if rigorous activity is performed daily while wearing them.
Maintain a healthy weight, and a diet rich in vegetables. Perform light stretching exercises every day and meditate if you feel that there is too much stress in your life. Lastly, pamper your feet on a weekly basis. You would never need to search remedies for heel spur pain relief if you had done so in the first place!