Often I have patients coming in with pains in their feet, particularly the heel. Two of the most common conditions seen are listed in the title; however, the most common question asked follows. So what is the difference between heel spurs and heel pain, or some ask between heel spurs and plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis and heel spurs are two different, but closely connected conditions that lead to chronic, or intermittent pain in your feet and heels. Knowing the difference between the two, and how they’re related to one another, can help you determine which you’re suffering from; set a course for treatment; and reduce symptoms of pain and discomfort.
What’s the Difference?
The main difference between plantar fasciitis and heel spurs lies in the source of the pain. Pain from plantar fasciitis, is typically felt in the arch of the foot and the heel, due to damage or overuse of the plantar fascia. Heel spurs, or tiny jagged calcium deposits on the heel bone, develop in response to the trauma to the plantar fascia, and are localised in the heel.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by stress and damage to the plantar fascia ligament, the area between the ball of your foot and the heel on the underside of your foot. This stress can be caused by wearing worn or unsupportive footwear; trauma to the foot; carrying extra weight; or spending an excessive amount of time on your feet. Heel spurs develop as a secondary result of plantar fasciitis. When the plantar fascia ligament is damaged, the body creates what’s known as heel spurs–small, sharp calcium deposits on the heel bone, in an attempt to support the damaged fascia. Unfortunately, if left untreated, heel spurs can further damage and erode the fatty pad that supports your heel, and do permanent damage to your foot.
The simplest way to describe heel spurs is a stabbing sensation in your heel/s, which makes sense, because that’s exactly what happens. The sharp calcium deposits building up on your heel bone are literally stabbing into the fatty pad of your heel. You’ll likely notice that the pain is worst, first thing in the morning, and can come and go throughout the day. Plantar fasciitis on the other hand, encompasses a broader range of symptoms, localised in the foot and heel area. Symptoms of plantar fasciitis may be present for some time, before you feel the stabbing sensation of heel spurs, since untreated plantar fasciitis, and a strained or damaged fascia, is a primary cause of heel spurs. Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include redness, swelling and inflammation in the heel and fascia (the area between the ball of your foot and your heel). You’ll likely experience sharp pain that’s worse in the morning and may get better as the fascia are stretched throughout the day. An aching, burning pain in the heel is the hallmark of plantar fasciitis.
Treating plantar fasciitis quickly (which can lead to heel spurs if left untreated), is key to avoiding additional damage. Give your feet rest breaks during the day if you’re spending a lot of time on your feet, and reduce your exercise routine if necessary. Exercises that entail high impact on the feet contribute further to the inflammation in the area. It’s also important to ice your feet to reduce inflammation; this is a method I incorporate when giving exercises to the patient for the home care regime.
For both plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, it’s critical to wear shoes that have a thick cushioned sole, and aren’t worn at the heel. It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight to avoid adding additional strain to the plantar fascia and heel. One of the best ways you can treat both plantar fasciitis and heel spurs is to use orthotics/ arch supports. They’re effective in greatly reducing or eliminating pain for 90 percent of patients; however, getting footwear to facilitate orthotics is often quite difficult in our country. Heavy/ unappealing orthopaedic shoes or more drastic (and typically unnecessary) surgery, are last options. That said, there are many orthopaedic brands that now offer stylish options with the orthopaedic element to it. This is advice also given within a podiatric consultation, as footwear is one of the most critical elements to solving/ resolving foot issues. An option that can also be explored are steroid injections.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis can sound intimidating, and feel even worse. But with prevention and consistent, proven remedies, you’ll be feeling better in no time in acute cases; and soon enough, in chronic ones. The most important bit to take away is the importance of compliance. Whilst you may seek the aid of a health professional, ultimately your care is in your hands for most conditions that may occur. Knowledge is power when it comes to managing, treating and beating your heel and foot pain. Now that you have some knowledge, use it, and empower others. For more specific care advice, see your podiatrist, and then from there you know for sure you are on the right trac
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!