Heels spurs are a natural response to excessively tight calves.
Our bodies respond to the forces and demands placed upon them. When the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot is constantly pulled tight by chronically tight calf muscles, the heel bone responds by growing out into the fascia to give it more support. This bony growth is a heel spur.
This is a slow process and generally takes years to develop into what’s commonly known as heel spurs. Early on the spurs just look like a little point of bone.
Blade of a Knife
Years down the track, well formed heel spurs look like the short blade of a knife on x-ray. If it was a knife stuck in your foot it would cause you a lot of pain but this is not the case here. It’s one of the great red herrings of medicine. More commonly they are a pointy bit of bone.
The spur doesn’t cause the pain, the spur and the pain are caused by the same thing – long term, increased tension on the heel bone, almost always caused by tight calves.
These are the usual culprits behind the heel spurs. I have never seen a person with heels spurs that didn’t have tight calves. Almost always, the pain subsides as the calves get looser.
The heel bone, or calcaneus, is the largest bone of your foot. The achillies tendon attaches to the back of it. The 2 main calf muscles, the gastrocnemius (gastroc) and the soleus, attach to the other end of the achillies. Together they pull the back of the calcaneus up.
The plantar fascia attaches to the front of the calcaneus. The other end of the fascia inserts into the ends of the furthest bones of the foot, the metatarsals, and the nearest bones of the toes, the proximal phalanges. It pulls the calcaneus forward. When the fascia becomes inflamed it is called plantar fasciitis. And it hurts. Burning, searing pain.
All day there is a constant play between the plantar fascia pulling the calcaneus forward, and the calf muscles pulling it back and up.
The shear size, strength and purpose of the calf muscles, gastroc and soleus, mean that when they’re tight, the poor plantar fascia doesn’t stand a chance.
Chronically tight calves overwhelm the counterbalancing force of the plantar fascia and the body responds by strengthening the insertion of the fascia with more bone. This extra bone becomes a ‘heel spur’.
Fallen arches may be contributing to the problem. If they are, arch supports may be very useful. You can get them out of the packet or custom made. Try the packet ones first as they are much cheaper.
Your doctors’ approach will be to inject cortisone into your heel. This may be the way to go if the pain is severe and other approaches I’ve mentioned don’t work. If you have the cortisone, remember that you still have to stretch those calves because they will still be tight.
The surgical alternative is to go in and cut the spur out. Eeek! Remember, the heel spur doesn’t cause the pain, it’s just a response to overly tight calves and plantar fascia. The reason having this surgery can work is that the plantar fascia is detached from the front of the heel bone (calcaneus), when the spur is removed, and so relieving the tension on it that causes the pain! Definitely a last resort.
- Your heel spurs are most likely caused by tight calves.
- Stretch your calves for a few minutes at least a few times a day. If you’re serious stretch them every hour or more.
- The trick is high frequency and low to moderate intensity. Do lots of them, not very hard.