A heel spur is caused by the displacement of calcium on the bone that forms on the underside of the heel. It may be one small bony protrusion or a collection of tiny, irregularly shaped growths on the bone of the heel, which is called the calcaneum.
Heel spurs are sometimes painful — described as a knife digging into the heel — and other times, a heel spur goes unnoticed and is only detected by an X-ray.
Because knowledge about the symptoms of heel spurs is somewhat limited, it’s common that it’s mistakenly assumed to be plantar fasciitis. A heel spur is simply the presence of an extra protrusion on the bony surface of the heel, while plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia — a thick, connective tissue band that extends from the heel bone to the heads of the metatarsal bones, which are five long bones in the foot located between the heel and the toes.
This connective tissue forms a tie that supports the arch on the bottom of your foot. Strain on the plantar fascia leads to irritation, swelling and then a weakness of the arch — this creates pain at the back of the heel.
On the other hand, a heel spur is only observable by an X-ray and is painful when inflammation develops in the tissues surrounding it.
Heel spurs are most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but they can be found in all age groups. It’s common that people have heel spurs without ever knowing it — many patients with plantar fasciitis who do have discomfort are found to also have heel spurs when observed with X-ray.
What Causes a Heel Spur and Plantar Fasciitis?
The process of bone formation is initiated when the heel is subjected to constant wear and tear. This is typical among most athletes, runners, or even people who begin jogging or walking daily after years of no exercise.
The plantar fascia is the thick, connective tissue that supports the arch on the bottom of the foot. The strain in the foot muscle and ligaments stretches the plantar fascia and tears the membrane that covers the heel bone.
In order to protect the heel’s surrounding tissues from repetitive damage and strain, cells that specialize in forming bone migrate to the site and start depositing calcium, which leads to the formation of heel spurs. This calcium buildup on the underside of the heel bone is a process that typically occurs over a period of many months.
Some causes of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis include:
- Abnormal or lopsided walking, which places excessive stress on the heel bone, ligaments and nerves
- Running, jogging or jumping, especially on hard surfaces
- Poorly fitted or badly worn shoes, especially those lacking appropriate arch support
- Excess weight and obesity
More often than not, heel spurs have no signs or symptoms, and you don’t feel any pain. This is because heel spurs aren’t pointy or sharp pieces of bone, contrary to common belief.
Heel spurs don’t cut tissue every time movement occurs. They’re actually deposits of calcium on bone set in place by the body’s normal bone-forming mechanisms. This means they’re smooth and flat, just like all other bones.
Because there’s already tissue present at the site of a heel spur, sometimes that area and the surrounding tissue get inflamed, leading to a number of symptoms, such as chronic heel pain that occurs when jogging or walking.
Another cause of heel spur pain comes from the development of new fibrous tissue around the bony spur, which acts 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 less space for the thick surrounding network of tendons, nerves, ligaments and supporting tissue.
These important structures in the foot have limited space because of calcium or tissue buildup, which leads to swelling and redness of the foot and a deep, throbbing pain worsened with exercise.
The pain caused by heel spurs can be a sharp, stabbing pain when using the foot after a long period of rest. Sometimes it then reduces to a dull throb that can worsen when engaging in activities like jogging or jumping.
People sometimes describe the pain of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis as a pin sticking into the bottom of the foot when they first stand up in the morning. This pain later turns into a bearable ache.
The cause of the pain is generally not the heel spur itself, but the soft-tissue buildup associated with it. People often complain that the sharp pain returns after they stand up following sitting for a prolonged period of time.
Conventional treatment for heel spurs typically includes rest, stretching exercises, icing and anti-inflammatory medications. Many people find it difficult to go through the day without some sort of routine activity or exercise, and this prolongs the heel spur and forces people to rely on anti-inflammatory medications for a longer period of time. This can be detrimental due to the many side effects of these medications, including gastrointestinal problems like leaky gut, bleeding and ulcer symptoms.
Another conventional treatment for a heel spur is a steroid injection. This treatment, however, isn’t always effective because of the many structures in the heel, making it a difficult place for an injection. If this treatment goes wrong, it can make the original symptoms even worse.
Another interesting means of treatment is Cryoultrasound, an innovative electromedical device that utilizes the combination of two therapeutic techniques: cryotherapy and ultrasound therapy. Treatments with Cryoultrasound accelerate the healing process by interrupting the cycle and pain and spasms.
This form of therapy increases blood circulation and cell metabolism. It stimulates toxin elimination and is supposed to speed up recovery.
In some cases, heel spurs are removed by surgery after an X-ray. While the surgery is typically effective, it’s a timely and expensive procedure.
Even after surgery, heel spurs can reform if the patient continues the lifestyle that led to the problem. These reasons are why most people who develop painful heel spurs begin looking for natural remedies for joint and bone pain.
Surgery isn’t required to cure a heel spur. In fact, more than 90 percent of people get better with nonsurgical treatments. If nonsurgical methods fail to treat symptoms of heel spurs after 12 months, surgery may be necessary to alleviate pain and restore mobility.
Of course, there are possible complications of heel spur surgery, including nerve pain, permanent numbness in that area, infection, recurring heel pain and scarring. If the plantar fascia is released, a common surgical method, there’s a risk of foot cramps, stress fractures, tendonitis and instability.
7 Natural Treatments for a Heel Spur
Magnesium is an essential mineral for bone formation and utilizing calcium. More than half of the magnesium in the human body is stored in the bones, and it’s required by the body for protein synthesis, nerve function and the production of the antioxidant glutathione.
One way to treat the symptoms of a heel spur is with a warm bath with Epsom salt. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, and it has many beneficial properties when it comes to relieving pain and inflammation. Add a cup of Epsom salt to your detox bath recipe, and gently massage your heels to release the pressure.
There are also plenty of great magnesium-rich foods that provide you with the magnesium you need to alleviate a heel spur.
2. Vitamin B5
One of the primary signs of a serious vitamin B5 deficiency is muscle impairment and pain. Vitamin B5 is responsible for helping with nerve function, specifically creating an important molecule called acetylcholine.
Some foods naturally high in vitamin B5 include avocado, sunflower seeds, eggs, salmon and lentils. Taking B vitamin complex supplements is correlated with lower levels of joint pain, enhanced muscle strength, and fewer symptoms associated with muscle or joint fatigue.
3. Proteolytic Enzymes
Inflammation is naturally reduced with proteolytic enzymes — a group of enzymes that breaks the long chain-like molecules of proteins into shorter fragments and then into amino acids. Research shows that proteolytic enzymes cut down on remission time and increase response rates. They’re used for therapy on patients suffering from intense joint and muscle pain, cancer, and age-related diseases.
One example of a proteolytic enzyme is bromelain, which fights inflammation by blocking metabolites that cause swelling. It also acts to decrease swelling by activating a chemical in the blood that breaks down fibrin, thus leading to reduced swelling.
Bromelain health benefits, which can be found in the stem and fruit of a pineapple, are many, and it’s often recommended to be taken before surgeries to speed healing time and decrease inflammation commonly associated with surgical procedures. Reducing inflammation helps in healing a heel spur and relieving the pressure.
4. Alkaline Diet
It’s important that our bodies have a proper pH balance in order to avoid inflammation and calcium buildup, which causes a heel spur.
To function at its best, the body must maintain a proper and delicate acid/alkaline balance, which is referred to as your pH balance — pH is short for the potential of hydrogen and is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the body’s fluids and tissues.
A pH of 7 is neutral, which means it’s right in the middle of the acid base scale and is neither acidic nor alkaline. When the body chemistry turns too acidic, many disorders and diseases develop.
A system too high in alkaline has a hard time absorbing calcium properly, which is essential for strengthening bones. Once the bones are under stress, they formulate bone spurs in order to “fix” the problem.
If the system is too acidic, calcium is attracted to the acidic areas because it’s so alkaline. The body uses calcium as a buffer in order to neutralize excess acid and takes calcium from the bones when needed to neutralize excess acidity in the blood and tissues.
This is why too much acidity in the body over a long enough period of time results in osteoporosis, which causes the bones to become weak and brittle.
Even though there are many sources of acidity and toxicity in our environments, the biggest contributor to unbalanced pH is our diets. Our problem is more a matter of not taking in enough alkaline foods rather than taking in too much acid.
Fruits and vegetables are potassium-rich foods, and they serve as a natural buffer to acidity. Raw foods, green drinks, and water with lemon or lime boost alkalinity.
On the other hand, processed foods contain tons of sodium chloride, or table salt, which constricts blood vessels and creates acidity. Too much animal protein, dairy and grains also cause sulfuric acid to build up in the blood as amino acids are broken down.
5. Fish Oil
Omega-3 fatty acids, one of the fish oil benefits, are some of nature’s strongest tools against inflammation. Omega-3 foods include fish oil, and you can take fish oil tablets rich in omega-3 fatty acids daily in order to relieve your body from pain and irritation.
Many Americans’ health problems can be traced back to having an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. In moderation, omega-6 fats aren’t necessarily bad for you, but if they’re consumed in large amounts without omega-3 fats, they cause inflammation that leads to chronic illness.
Research shows that fish oil can benefit those with bone pain, especially overweight older adults who suffer from osteoarthritis pain.
6. Roll Out Area or Massage
By stretching your toes and massaging your toes and heel, the scar tissue heals as stronger and more resilient tissue.
If you suffer from heel spur pain, warm up a small amount of olive or coconut oil, and deeply massage it into your heel. The warm oil — coconut or olive oil — comforts your heels and keeps them safe from the harmful effects of excessive wear and tear.
Also, one of essential oils benefits is its anti-inflammatory properties. These includerosemary oil, thyme oil, rose oil and lavender oil.
7. Wear Minimalist Shoes
Choosing the right shoes for your lifestyle and physical activity is very important. You can prevent heel spurs by wearing well-fitting shoes with shock-absorbent soles, firm shanks and supportive heel counters.
Shoes that are too tight restrict the movement of the tendons, which damages the bones of the feet. Wearing the right shoes reduces pressure on the heel and helps distribute your body weight evenly.