Heel Spurs

Overview

What is a heel spur?

A heel spur or bone spur is a bony growth that pokes out from the bottom of your heel, where your heel bone connects to the ligament running between your heel and the ball of your foot (the plantar fascia). Heel spurs affect about 15% of people.

Heel spurs develop over time. Most people don’t realize they have a heel spur until they seek help for heel pain. While heel spurs can be removed with surgery, healthcare providers recommend non-surgical treatments to ease symptoms associated with heel spurs.

Are heel spurs the same thing as plantar fasciitis?

Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are related conditions but they're not the same. Here’s how the two conditions intersect:

  • Plantar fasciitis happens when overuse stretches or tears your plantar fascia — the ligament that runs between your heel and the ball of your foot. If you have plantar fasciitis, you’ll probably feel intense stabbing heel pain that comes and goes throughout your day. The pain eases once you walk for a bit but comes back if you sit and then get up to walk some more.
  • Heel spurs can happen as a reaction to stress and inflammation caused by plantar fasciitis. Over time your body responds to the stress by building extra bone tissue. This extra tissue becomes a heel spur. Most people don’t feel pain from their heel spur, but when they do, the pain is like plantar fasciitis pain.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes heel spurs?

Heel spurs are your body’s response to stress and strain placed on your foot ligaments and tendons. For example, when you develop plantar fasciitis, your body responds to the stress by creating a heel spur.

You can also develop heel spurs by repeatedly tearing the covering that lines your heel bone or if you have a gait disorder. (A gait disorder is when an illness or condition affects your balance and coordination so you can’t walk as you usually do.)

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose heel spurs?

Healthcare providers typically examine your foot and ask about physical activity that might have caused your heel pain. Ultimately, X-rays are one of the most common tests that healthcare providers use to diagnose heel spurs.

Management and Treatment

What’s the treatment for heel spurs?

Healthcare providers treat heel spurs the same way they treat plantar fasciitis. That’s because heel pain blamed on heel spurs is actually caused by plantar fasciitis. Treating the symptoms of plantar fasciitis can ease pain associated with heel spurs. Typical treatment includes:

  • Resting your heel. If you run or jog, taking a break will help your heel pain.
  • Using cold packs or ice. “Icing” the bottom of your foot can help ease heel pain.
  • Taking oral anti-inflammatory medicine.
  • Wearing footwear or shoe inserts that support your arches and protect your plantar fascia by cushioning the bottom of your foot.

Will I need surgery for my heel spur?

Your heel spur might be removed as part of plantar fasciitis surgery, but healthcare providers rarely perform surgery to remove heel spurs.

Do heel spurs go away without surgery?

Once formed, heel spurs are permanent. Surgery is the only way to remove a heel spur. Since heel spurs usually don’t hurt, treating the condition that caused your heel spur should help ease your heel pain.

Prevention

What are risk factors for heel spurs?

Several factors increase your risk of developing heel spurs. Some factors are things you can change right away or change over time. Others you cannot change.

Changes you can make right now

  • If you jog or run, choose soft surfaces like grass and tracks over hard surfaces like sidewalks and pavement.
  • Wear shoes that fit and support your arches.
  • Wear slippers or shoes if you walk on hardwood or tile floors.
  • Adjust the way you walk so there’s less pressure on your heels.

Changes you can make over time

  • Lose weight so you put less pressure on your foot.
  • Change your daily routine so you aren’t on your feet as much.

Things you can't change

  • As you age, your plantar fascia becomes less flexible, more prone to damage, and more likely to develop plantar fasciitis.
  • You gradually lose the natural fat pad cushions on the bottom of your feet.
  • You have fat feet or high arches.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have heel spurs?

Other conditions usually cause heel spurs. There are treatments that can ease the pain of these underlying conditions, but surgery is the only way to remove a heel spur. Ask your healthcare provider if surgery is an appropriate solution to your heel spur problem.

Living With

How do I take care of myself if I have heel spurs?

Once you have a heel spur, you’ll always have a heel spur. Fortunately, heel spurs generally don’t hurt. But you should plan on managing the symptoms associated with heel spurs. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Cut back on activities that make your heel pain worse.
  • Be sure you have well-fitting shoes that support your arches.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Talk to your provider if treatment for your heel pain doesn’t seem to help. While heel spurs don’t always hurt, ongoing heel pain might be a sign that it’s time to try other treatments or check for other potential problems.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • Why do I have a heel spur?
  • What can you do for my heel spur?
  • Will my heel spur go away?
  • If my heel spur isn’t causing my heel pain, what is?
  • What treatments can address the problem that caused my heel spur?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A heel spur happens when stress and strain damage your plantar fascia, the ligament on the bottom of your foot. Heel spurs usually aren’t the reason why your heel hurts. You probably learned about your heel spur when you sought help for heel pain. Even if your heel spur didn’t cause your heel pain, you should still pay attention to your heels. If your heels hurt when you do certain activities, talk to your healthcare provider about additional steps you can take to ease your heel pain.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/19/2021.

References

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Plantar Fasciitis and Bone Spurs. (https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/plantar-fasciitis-and-bone-spurs) Accessed 10/28/2021.
  • American Family Physician. Plantar Fasciitis and Other Causes of Heel Pain. (https://www.aafp.org/afp/1999/0415/p2200.html#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20cause%20of,the%20finding%20of%20localized%20tenderness.) Accessed 10/28/2021.
  • American Family Physician. Heel Pain Diagnosis and Management. (https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0115/p86.html) Accessed 10/28/2021.
  • Kirkpatrick J, Yassaie O, Mirjalili SA. The Plantar Calceneal Spur: A Review of Anatomy, Histology, Etiology, and Key Associations. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5442149/) J Anat. 2017 Jun;230(6):743-751. Accessed 10/28/2021.
  • Merck Manuals. Plantar Fasciosis (Plantar Fasciitis (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/foot-problems/plantar-fasciosis#v26371392) ) Accessed 10/28/2021.

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