Posted on: 19 March 2015Share
Of all the conditions that can affect your feet, heel spurs are among the most awkward and difficult to deal with. Properly known as calcaneal spurs, and sometimes incorrectly referred to as 'bone' spurs, these vicious little spikes growing within your feet can be utterly harmless, but many become excruciatingly painful if not treated. However, these spurs will, unless you're very unlucky, only appear to cause trouble if you make basic mistakes in foot care in the way you walk and treat your feet every day
What is a calcaneal spur?
Calcaneal spurs are made from calcium deposits, which are left behind by the body's immune system when repairing damaged bones. The bones in our feet suffer microscopic levels of wear through every day use, and this is usually painless and no cause for concern. However, repeated and excessive damage to the bones in the heel can result in repeated calcium depositing, which eventually starts to pile up and form a spur-like shape.
These spurs come in two varieties:
- Inferior: located on the bottom of the heel, these spurs are usually invisible, and may be completely painless until they've grown quite large.
- Posterior: located on the back of the heel below the ankle, these usually cause a visible protrusion and discolouration of the skin, and can be very painful even if small.
What causes them, and how can I avoid them?
In some cases, calcaneal spurs can be caused by more serious medical conditions such as arthritis and akylosing spondylitis - if so, treating them will be just one of a range of more pressing concerns. However, there are some more mundane causes that can be avoided easily and with a relatively small amount of effort and expense:
- Abnormal foot mechanics: put simply, incorrect gait and posture can put pressure on parts of the heel and foot musculature that are not designed to take the strain, causing damage that leads to calcium build-up. Consciously improving your posture and style of walking is highly effective at preventing spur growth. If your gait is affected by other conditions such as osteoporosis or lupus, consider seeing a podiatrist or physiotherapist to help you with corrective measures.
- Unsuitable footwear: posterior spurs are often causes by shoes that are too tight, which inferior spurs can be caused by footwear with insufficient arch support. Again, if you have other conditions affecting your gait or weight distribution, orthopaedic footwear specially moulded to your feet can be a big help (they can also be prohibitively expensive - consider wearing custom-made orthopaedic inserts in normal shoes as a cheaper alternative).
- Stressful exercise: High impact exercises, such as jogging and ball sports, are prime culprits for causing spur growth. People who work sedentary office jobs and the like are particularly at risk, as the violent transition between low-stress work and high-stress exercise leaves the foot muscles unprepared for the strain. Try taking up a low-impact exercise such as swimming or yoga, and try to remain more constantly active throughout the week to keep foot muscles strong.
- High heels: Wearing high heeled shoes regularly puts you particularly at risk as abnormal strain is placed on the Achilles tendons. Try transitioning to flat shoes, but make sure they have adequate arch support.
- Obesity: Carrying a few extra pounds shouldn't make much of a difference, but the considerable extra weight carried by the morbidly obese puts enormous strain on the heels and causes extensive damage and spurring.
For more information, check out clinics such as Morrison Podiatry Centre.