Bone spurs are smooth, hard bumps of bone tissue that develop on the end of a bone, such as your heel. They appear like small hooks on an X-ray, but they're not necessarily visible when you look from the outside.
Bone spurs often crop up in joints where bones come together, bound up by ligaments and tendons. The friction between the bones or within the soft tissues causes the spur to develop.
Bone heel spurs don’t generally produce symptoms, but if they grate against other bones, or if they press on nerves running through the area, you may feel pain and stiffness.
At Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, our foot and ankle specialists see many cases of heel spurs at our offices in and around Chicago, Illinois — about 1 in 10 adults have them.
Sometimes, heel spurs can lead to serious heel pain, and they often develop along with another common podiatric condition, plantar fasciitis. Many of our patients want to know if they can get rid of the spurs with at-home care. Here’s what our experts have to say.
Bone spur causes
The most common cause of bone spurs is some form of degenerative joint disease, such as osteoarthritis (the wear-and-tear form), that destroys the cartilage protecting the bones’ ends. Lupus, rheumatoid (inflammatory) arthritis, and gout are also major culprits.
But spurs can also form when you injure a ligament or tendon, such as the plantar fascia, a thick ligament on the sole of the foot. The membrane that surrounds the heel bone can also suffer micro-tears from overuse, leading to friction.
Your body attempts to repair the damage by adding bone to the injured area.
Other causes of heel spurs include genetics (runs in families), diet, obesity (extra weight on heel bone), and congenital deformities.
Bone spur symptoms
It’s possible not to know you have a bone spur until you get an X-ray for another problem. They only cause symptoms if they press on nerves, tendons, or other soft tissues. Then, you might feel:
- Pain in the affected joint
- Pain or stiffness when moving the affected joint
- Muscle spasms, cramps, or weakness
- Bumps under your skin
Only about 1 in 20 cases lead to a stabbing pain in your heel; most are asymptomatic.
What is plantar fasciitis?
The plantar fascia runs under the sole of your foot from the back of your heel to your toes. It stretches and contracts to maintain your arch and absorb the shock of movement.
But if you repeatedly stress the tissue over time, say, by long-distance running, the fascia can develop micro-tears and become inflamed. This condition is called plantar fasciitis, and it creates a characteristic pain felt under your heel.
Can you get rid of heel spurs at home?
While there are things you can do to relieve the symptoms of heel spurs at home, you can’t remove the bony growth without surgery.
Some things you can do include:
- Cold compresses to relieve pain
- Over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories
- Stretches like foot flexes and calf stretches to relieve pressure
- Wearing the correct shoes
When looking for a shoe, make sure it has
- Firm heel support, which prevents your foot from rolling inward or outward
- Proper arch support
- Moderate flexibility — a gradual bend with some resistance when your foot is flexed or bent
- Slightly elevated heel — a heel insert (no more than 1-inch high) can take pressure off your painful heel
You can also ask about custom orthotics. These molded shoe inserts are designed specifically for your feet and slip into your shoe. They provide proper support in all the right places, relieving pain.
If you feel a sharp pain under your heel, it could be a heel spur and/or plantar fasciitis. For an accurate diagnosis and treatment, come into Chicagoland Foot and Ankle for an evaluation.
To get started, call us at any of our locations (Mount Greenwood and Portage Park areas of Chicago, Orland Park, and New Lenox, Illinois), or book online.