What does the word spur mean? Well interestingly enough, it means to encourage or prompt something or someone. But what about a heel spur? Those who experience pain from heel spurs may be puzzled by the name of this condition since they neither feel encouraged nor prompted by their condition.

The spurs are calcium deposits that form a bony growth located on the bottom of the heel bone. Their shape is often pointy or hooked. For our patients in Texas, the image of a spur on a cowboy boot may easily come to mind. For cowboys and horseback riders, spurs are used to urge horses to move forward. For any patients in Florida, perhaps a sand spur is easier to imagine. As for sand spurs, if you step on one of those barefoot you jump into action too! In either case, spurs are easily identified by their spiky shape.

So while heel spurs are not necessarily encouraging to patients, patients may agree that the name begins to make sense in terms of the spiky shape and the related pain that “spurs” a reaction. Many people describe heel spur pain as like having a knife or pin stabbing the bottom of their foot when they begin the day and slowing to a dull ache as the day wears on.

So if your spurs do encourage you do anything, it should be to seek help for relief. Some patients never experience any pain from their heel spurs, but if you are in pain, a doctor can help you find relief and protect your foot. The presence of heel spurs (a spiky outgrowth of bone) can be harmful to the rest of your foot. Those who experience pain are not feeling the spur itself, but actually are feeling the damage to the surrounding soft tissues. Also, heel spurs are closely related to the development of plantar fasciitis, a related condition that is most likely brought on by the weakening of the ligament called the plantar fascia. This ligament stretches across the bottom of your foot and when strained and inflamed, can cause pain.

What can I do for relief?

Spurs form slowly over a few months and commonly occur among athletes who engage in high-impact activities like running and jumping. To diagnose the condition, a physician will ask you about your pain, activities, and any tenderness in your foot that may prevent you from walking on hard surfaces. X-rays may also help physicians visually locate where the spur is on the foot. A number of risk factors contribute to heel spurs and your doctor can help you identify any lifestyle factors that may be worsening your condition. Our podiatrists at Physician Partners of America can help identify which treatment options will be best for your unique case. Common treatment plans may include exercise, shoe inserts, injections, and/or anti-inflammatory medications.

What about surgery?

The majority of patients with heel spurs are able to find relief without seeking surgery. However, if nonsurgical methods provide little relief after 9-12 months, surgery may be suggested by your physician. The surgical options include a release of the plantar fascia or the removal of a spur. You and your doctor may utilize exams and tests to determine whether surgery will be a good option.