Heel Spurs

Spurs are outgrowths of bone. In the feet, they most commonly occur in the heel. The spurs usually develop in areas subjected to constant pressure. Bone spurs can become problematic when pain and other foot problems crop up as a result of footwear pressing and rubbing against the affected area, causing irritation, redness, swelling, and inflammation. As the bone spur irritates and inflames the surrounding soft tissue, acute pain and/ or a dull ache are experienced.

Heel spurs, or bone spurs in the heel, occur on the bottom of the heel bone as a result of calcium deposits forming over time. They frequently accompany the condition plantar fasciitis. They are quite common and often develop in athletes who frequently run and jump, high-impact activities that cause repeated pressure on the area; they are also common in individuals who stand on hard surfaces for long periods of time. People with high foot arches, diabetes, and excess weight can also be prone to heel spurs. Heel spurs can be prevented through stretches and foot exercises, wearing supportive, well-fitted footwear, and properly warming up before impact activities, all of which reduce tension and stress to the area.

Heel spurs can be associated with plantar fasciitis, a condition when the plantar fascia, or band of fibrous tissue that connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot, becomes inflamed.

Treatment for heel spurs includes orthotics, supportive and properly fitting footwear, anti-inflammatory medications (ask a doctor before taking any medication), cortisone injections, and surgery if the condition worsens.

Heel Fissures

Heel fissures, or cracks in the skin of the heel, occur due to the area being subjected to constant pressure and friction. The heel is also susceptible to dry skin and calluses. Superficial cracks that do not penetrate deeply into the skin’s surface can be treated with thick creams to provide moisture. Deeper heel fissures that expose layers of skin tissue or blood are more serious, as infections can develop if bacteria enter the fissures.
Heel fissures can be prevented by wearing properly-fitting, supportive, cushioned footwear, as well as heel inserts, both of which protect the heel’s fat pad from wearing down. Avoid wearing sandals and open-heeled footwear that expose the heel and provide less support to the area. Keep the heel’s skin moisturized and soft; uses pumice stones or foot files to get rid of calluses so fissures don’t form in the thickened, dry skin. Podiatrists have treatments for heel fissures and calluses. Always see a doctor for deeper heel fissures that can lead to infection.

Heel Calluses

Calluses, or thickened skin, result from on-going friction or pressure on a particular area of skin. Heel or plantar calluses cause irritation and pain as the thickened skin continues to be exposed to pressure or rub against footwear. Orthotic inserts and properly fitting footwear can prevent and alleviate calluses.

For cases of heel callus resulting from metatarsal bone deformity, surgery may be necessary to correct the bone and lessen the pressure. Less severe calluses can be reduced by soaking the foot in warm, soapy water, then rubbing the skin with a pumice or appropriate foot file; apply a thick moisturizing cream afterward to keep the skin soft. There are over-the-counter callus removers (always check with a doctor before using any medication; some of these treatments can cause chemical burns). Podiatrists also have methods for reducing calluses and treating the pain that can accompany them.

Haglund’s Deformity

Haglund’s deformity, or “pump bump,” is a hard, bony enlargement on the back of the heel. Also called retrocalcaneal bursitis, Haglund’s deformity causes pain when footwear rubs against the protruding bone growth, irritating and inflaming the surrounding soft tissue. Bursitis can develop as a result of Haglund’s deformity and irritation to the area. Rigid-backed footwear, including workboots, high-heeled shoes, dress shoes, and even ice skates can irritate the area, resulting in swelling, redness, and discomfort. Women are more prone to this deformity than men due to the stiff contour of pumps and dress shoes.

Treatment for Haglund’s deformity includes inserting heel pads or lifts into shoes to reduce rubbing and pressure to the area, wearing shoes with soft or no backs, icing the area to reduce swelling, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications on a temporary basis to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling (ask your doctor first).

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, the fibrous tissue that runs along the arch of the foot to connect the heel bone and ball of the forefoot. Heel spurs are not the same as plantar fasciitis; however, the two conditions are associated. Since the plantar fascia is subjected to great amounts of impact and pressure while supporting the foot’s arch, it can become inflamed and irritated. In some cases, it begins to deteriorate.

Standing, running, and walking can cause and encourage the pain and inflammation associated with plantar fasciitis. Treatment for plantar fasciitis is the same plan of attack to alleviate heel spurs: rest, ice application, orthotic inserts, exercises and stretches to alleviate tightness and pressure, and anti-inflammatory medications (always check with a doctor before taking any medication). Splinting the foot at night can also help stretch the plantar fascia. Surgery is necessary in some cases.

Plantar fasciitis can be prevented by wearing supportive, properly-fitting footwear, orthotics, heel pads or cushions, and stretching to keep the foot flexible.