Heel Spurs Explained

Heel spurs, a term that often surfaces in discussions about foot pain and discomfort, are more than just a minor nuisance. They are bony growths that can develop on the heel bone and are often associated with chronic foot pain. Understanding heel spurs is crucial, not just for individuals suffering from foot pain, but for anyone who is actively engaged in activities that put stress on the feet. 

This article by Manly Cove Podiatry delves deep into what heel spurs are, their causes, symptoms, and the various treatment options available. 

What are Heel Spurs?

Heel spurs are defined as calcium deposits that build up on the underside of the heel bone. These growths can extend up to half an inch from the heel bone, and although they are often painless, they can cause significant discomfort in some cases.

  • Anatomical Perspective:
      • Heel spurs develop over time due to the continuous strain on foot muscles and ligaments, as well as prolonged pressure on the heel bone.
      • They are often seen in conjunction with plantar fasciitis, a condition where the plantar fascia – the band of tissue running from the heel to the toes – becomes inflamed.
  • Development and Location:
    • The development of a heel spur is a gradual process. The constant stretching of the plantar fascia, often combined with the tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone, leads to the formation of a spur.
    • Typically, heel spurs are located on the front part of the heel bone and can be detected via X-ray. While they are most commonly found on the bottom of the heel, they can also form on the back of the heel, often related to Achilles tendon problems.

Causes and Risk Factors

Understanding the causes and risk factors of heel spurs is crucial for both prevention and effective treatment. Heel spurs are typically the result of long-term stress on the feet, particularly in the heel area. This stress can be due to a variety of factors:

  • Prolonged Walking or Standing: Regularly engaging in activities that involve extended periods of walking or standing, especially on hard surfaces, can contribute to the development of heel spurs.
  • Improper Footwear: Shoes that do not provide adequate support or cushioning can lead to extra strain on the heel bone and surrounding structures.
  • Excess Weight: Carrying excess body weight can increase the strain on the foot, particularly the heel, leading to the formation of spurs.
  • Age: The risk of developing heel spurs increases with age. As we get older, the fat pad on the heel thins out, offering less cushioning, and the plantar fascia becomes less flexible.
  • Athletic Activities: Athletes, particularly runners or those involved in high-impact sports, are at an increased risk due to repetitive stress on the heel.

Additionally, individuals with certain foot types, such as flat feet or high arches, are more susceptible to developing heel spurs due to the increased stress these conditions place on the foot.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Heel spurs themselves are often asymptomatic – meaning they don’t cause any symptoms. However, they can be associated with chronic pain in some cases, especially when walking, jogging, or running.

  • Symptoms: The most common symptom of a heel spur is a sharp, stabbing pain in the heel when standing up after sitting for a long period or early in the morning. The pain typically decreases after walking around but might return after prolonged periods of standing or walking.
  • Diagnosis: Diagnosing heel spurs involves a physical examination and a review of the patient’s medical history. Doctors often recommend imaging tests, such as X-rays, to confirm the presence of a heel spur and rule out other causes of heel pain. The X-ray can reveal the bony protrusion extending from the heel bone.

In some cases, heel spurs are discovered incidentally during X-rays for other foot-related issues, as they don’t always cause pain or discomfort. 

Impact on Daily Life

The presence of heel spurs can significantly impact daily life, especially if they lead to pain and discomfort. While many individuals with heel spurs experience no symptoms, those who do may find that their regular activities become more challenging.

  • Effects on Mobility: For people experiencing pain from heel spurs, activities such as walking, running, or even standing can become uncomfortable or painful. This discomfort can lead to a decrease in overall physical activity, affecting one’s health and well-being.
  • Influence on Exercise Routines: Athletes or individuals with active lifestyles may need to modify their exercise routines to accommodate heel spur pain. This could mean switching to low-impact activities or reducing the intensity of workouts.
  • Daily Comfort and Footwear Choices: Footwear choices may need to be adjusted to alleviate discomfort. Shoes with better arch support, cushioning, or custom orthotics might become necessary.
  • Emotional and Psychological Impact: Dealing with chronic pain can also have emotional and psychological effects, such as frustration or changes in mood, particularly for those who are highly active or value independence.

Treatment Options

A range of treatment options is available for managing heel spurs, and the right approach often depends on the severity of symptoms and individual lifestyle factors.

Conservative Treatments 

These are often the first line of defence and can include:

  • Physical Therapy: Exercises to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon and to strengthen lower leg muscles, reducing pain and improving foot function.
  • Orthotics: Custom orthotic devices can provide support and cushioning, alleviating pressure on the heel spur.
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: Medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used to reduce pain and inflammation.

Surgical Options

Surgery is generally considered only when conservative treatments fail. Procedures may involve removing the heel spur or releasing tension in the plantar fascia.

Lifestyle Modifications

Along with medical treatments, lifestyle changes can play a significant role in managing heel spur symptoms. These changes might include losing weight, choosing appropriate footwear, or reducing activities that place stress on the feet.

Prevention Strategies

Preventing the formation of heel spurs involves addressing the underlying factors that contribute to their development. While not all cases can be prevented, especially those related to structural foot issues or genetics, there are several strategies that can significantly reduce the risk:

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess weight puts additional stress on the feet, particularly the heel. Keeping a healthy weight can reduce this strain.
  • Wear Supportive Footwear: Shoes that fit well and provide adequate support to the arch and heel can prevent excessive strain on the plantar fascia and heel bone.
  • Regular Stretching: Incorporating stretching exercises for the calf muscles and plantar fascia into your daily routine can help maintain flexibility and reduce tension on the heel.
  • Avoid Overexertion: Listen to your body and avoid pushing your feet beyond their limits, especially during high-impact activities.
  • Gradual Increase in Activity: Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise to avoid sudden strain on the feet.

Living with Heel Spurs

For those diagnosed with heel spurs, managing the condition is key to maintaining a good quality of life. While heel spurs can be a source of pain, several strategies can help in managing the symptoms:

  • Routine Foot Care: Regular foot care, including gentle stretching and massaging, can help alleviate discomfort.
  • Balanced Activity Levels: Balancing rest and activity is important. While staying active is beneficial, it’s also crucial to give your feet time to rest and recover.
  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat can help relax the muscles and ligaments around the heel, while cold therapy can reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Consulting with Specialists: Regular check-ups with a podiatrist or foot specialist can provide guidance and adjustments in treatment plans as needed.
  • Mindfulness and Stress Reduction: Chronic pain can be mentally taxing. Practices like mindfulness and stress reduction techniques can help in coping with the emotional aspects of living with a chronic condition.


As we conclude our exploration of heel spurs, it’s clear that while they can be a source of discomfort and pain, understanding their nature, causes, and treatments can empower individuals to manage their symptoms effectively. From wearing the right footwear to engaging in regular stretching exercises, the key to dealing with heel spurs lies in both preventive measures and proactive management strategies. 

It’s important to remember that heel spurs are often a sign of underlying issues with foot mechanics or stress on the feet, and addressing these root causes is crucial for long-term relief. If you’re experiencing persistent heel pain, consulting with a healthcare professional like Manly Cove Podiatry is always advisable to receive a proper diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can heel spurs go away on their own?

While the bony growth of a heel spur itself may not disappear without surgical intervention, the pain associated with it can often be managed and reduced through non-surgical treatments.

Are heel spurs and plantar fasciitis the same thing?

No, they are not the same. Heel spurs are bony growths on the heel bone, while plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. However, the two conditions are often related and can coexist.

Is surgery always necessary to treat heel spurs?

Surgery is not always required. Many people find relief through conservative treatments such as physical therapy, orthotics, and lifestyle modifications.

How long does it take to recover from heel spur surgery?

Recovery time varies depending on the individual and the extent of the surgery but generally ranges from a few weeks to several months.

Can exercises help in treating heel spurs?

Yes, specific exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the foot and ankle muscles can be very helpful in managing the symptoms of heel spurs.