If you’ve arrived here after Googling “my heel hurts when I walk,” you’ve come to the right place. While you might have assumed your heel pain is caused by a heel spur, that’s actually not the most likely culprit. In fact, only one out of 20 people with heel spurs experience heel pain. A more likely cause of your heel pain is plantar fasciitis. In this article, we’ll explain the difference between plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, how they’re related to each other, and how you can get on the road to recovery. Let’s start by defining each of these conditions.
What is plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain. It involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. This condition causes an intense aching, burning pain in your heel and arch of your foot, which is usually worse when you take your first steps in the morning or after a long period of rest. It can also cause redness, swelling, and inflammation in the heel and arch. Plantar fasciitis is more common in runners, people who are overweight, and those who wear shoes with inadequate support.
What is a heel spur?
A heel spur is a calcium deposit that causes a bony protrusion (bone spur) on the underside of the heel bone. They can reach up to half an inch in length, but they may not always be visible with the naked eye.
Interestingly, only 5 percent of people with a heel spur experience symptoms. Most people don’t even know they have one! Heel spurs are most often discovered through X-rays and other tests done for another foot issue.
Those who do experience symptoms from a heel spur typically experience a stabbing sensation in their heel. This makes sense, as the pain stems from the sharp calcium deposits poking the fatty pad of the heel. Pain is typically at its worst first thing in the morning and can wax and wane throughout the day. Unlike plantar fasciitis which can affect a larger portion of the foot, the pain of a heel spur is localized to the heel.
How are plantar fasciitis and heel spurs related?
Plantar fasciitis and heel spurs are two separate conditions, however, they are often related. Plantar fasciitis is caused by stress and damage to the plantar fascia ligament. Sources of stress can include carrying extra weight, wearing shoes that are unsupportive or worn out, trauma to the foot, not warming up before exercise, or spending an excessive amount of time on your feet.
About 50 percent of people with plantar fasciitis also have a bone spur. Heel spurs often develop as a secondary result of plantar fasciitis. When the plantar fascia ligament is damaged, the body creates small, sharp calcium deposits (heel spurs) in an attempt to support the damaged fascia.
Heel spurs, however, are not usually responsible for causing heel pain on their own. Rather, the pain is typically due to the foot condition that caused the spur, such as plantar fasciitis.
How do you treat plantar fasciitis and heel spurs?
Although plantar fasciitis is most often the cause of heel pain, it’s important that you visit your doctor to rule out other causes and confirm the diagnosis. If your doctor tells you that you have plantar fasciitis or a heel spur, the following treatment methods are suggested:
- Rest and ice. Give your foot a chance to heal by decreasing or stopping activities that are causing you pain. Ice the affected areas of your foot for 20 minutes, three to four times a day.
- Upgrade your footwear. Worn out or unsupportive footwear can both cause these conditions and make them worse. Make sure your footwear fits well, is not worn out, and is supportive. Just say no to high heels!
- Use custom orthotics. Wearing custom orthotics, such as Foot Levelers custom orthotics, can provide your arches with extra support and reduce the pressure on the plantar fascia. This will aid in your recovery process and prevent heel pain from returning in the future.
- Chiropractic and Physical therapy. Chiropractic treatment for plantar fasciitis can involve precise techniques that provide adjustments to the feet and ankles as well as spinal alignment2. Also, in some cases, physical therapy can help stretch the calves and plantar fascia to facilitate pain relief and healing.
The bottom line
The inflammation associated with plantar fasciitis and heel spurs usually responds well to the above treatment methods. As with anything, however, the best remedy for these conditions is prevention. To reduce your chances of developing plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, make sure you wear supportive footwear and consider investing in custom orthotics. When the feet are balanced with functional orthotic support, these conditions are much less likely to occur in the first place.
Katie Koschalk is a health and wellness writer residing in sunny California. She has certifications in personal training and holistic nutrition and a fascination with how to best support the body for optimal health. When not writing about wellness, you can find Katie hiking in the mountains of Northern California, whipping up healthy plant-based meals, and playing with her two adorable cats.