A calcaneal spur is a small bony projection that is formed on the calcaneus or heel bone. It is caused by putting too much pressure on the soles of the feet, usually over a long period of time.
What causes heel pain and calcaneal spurs? Every time you take a step, one of your heels has to support the whole weight of your body. As you move the load is many times your own body weight. The load is softened by a cushion of tissue under your heel and sinew under the sole of the foot.
When the recreational sports person or athlete does not warm up sufficiently or a person whom does not exercise regularly starts to exercise heavily during training they may overload the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the calf and the Achilles tendon.
These are also fixed to the heel bone. When the muscles in the calf or Achilles tendon have added stress there will be extra strain placed on muscles in the soles of the foot. The overload can cause inflammation and even small cracks in the sinew tissue.
Every time you rest, sleep or take the pressure off your legs, the muscles of the sole of the foot will contract in an attempt to protect the damaged area. The pain in the heel will then subside. However when you again move the pain will return and when you continue this movement the sinew will be affected even more so.
To compensate for this repeated damage, the body will then try and repair it in the same way that it would attempt to repair a broken limb by wrapping it up in bone cause by the inflammation.
The result is a small bony projection on the heel bone called a “Calcaneal spur.”
The spur itself does not cause the pain. The spur is the result of a prolonged overload of the sinewy tissue at the sole of the foot.
What are the symptoms of an overloaded sinew or calcaneal spur?
- An aching sometimes sharp, stabbing pain under or on the inside of the heel.
- The pain is often relieved during rest, but is worse after using it again.
- As a rule of thumb, it is most painful first thing in the morning.
- The pain is made worse by walking on hard surfaces or carrying heavy objects such as a backpack.
- The pain can become so painful that it becomes difficult to continue with your daily life and work.
- Many sufferers are people who may be overweight and middle-aged. This is due to the shock-absorbing fat pillow under the foot shrinking over the years and becoming less effective.
- Weekend athletes.
- People who have feet that are pronated and not corrected. Pronated means that the foot tends to roll inwards when a person walks or runs.
Foot care advice
- Take time to warm up and stretch before taking part in sport or exercise and cool down afterwards.
- If you run or jog, it is better to run a short distance several times a week than one long run once a week.
Do not over do it. Seek advice about creating a suitable running schedule that will give your body time to adapt and consult with a reputable podiatrist.
- If you experience pain in the heel you may be overloading your tendons and connective tissue.
- To help the healing process, follow the RICE principle, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
- Raise and rest the foot and do not run until it is completely healed. Apply an ice pack that has first been wrapped in a damp towel or cloth. An elasticised support bandage can help and will compress and support the foot. It should be firm, but not so tight that it affects the circulation of blood. Elevate the foot by resting it on a chair or a pillow. Invest in suitable shoes.
- The heel can be supported with a small cushioned insole inside the shoe. Again consult with a podiatrist.
- Arch supports that fit inside shoes will prevent feet from pronating.
- If you are overweight losing weight can help prevent foot injuries and prolonged agony.
How can I get a diagnosis?
Calcaneal spurs are diagnosed by the symptoms that are revealed during an examination by an exercise scientist, Physio, doctor or Osteopath.
To eventually confirm the diagnosis and exclude other possible causes of heel pain like gout, Osteo or rheumatoid arthritis, the doctor may order other investigations such as scans, x-rays, and severe cases MRI.
When a calcaneal spur develops it can be a difficult condition to treat. However, many cases involve only slight minor ligament disruption, which is relieved over a period of time.
Prevention by taking early corrective measures against any predisposing factors will improve the long-term outcome.
Treating a Calcaneal spur.
It is important to use appropriate footwear and adopt foot care awareness.
- Reduce activity
- Rest the foot.
- Ask your pharmacist about anti-inflammatory medicines.
- If the condition continues see your doctor about injections of steroids which can sometimes reduce pain dramatically, even though they may not last for long periods of time.