How Long Do Heel Spurs Last?
Although we treat all manner of pain, infections, and injuries in and around the feet and ankles, heel pain is no doubt the most frequent complaint we deal with.
So it’s not too rare for us to hear a question like, “How long will these heel spurs last, doctor? When are they going to go away?”
Well, here’s the honest answer:
Heel spurs last forever. Unless we remove them surgically, they will never go away.
We know—that sounds bad. But before you freak out, there are a few other important things you should know. And the most important one is this: just because you have a heel spur doesn’t mean that heel spur is causing pain.
Still confused? Let’s break it down.
A Normal Response to Trauma
So at this point, we should talk about why heel spurs happen in the first place. The short answer is that it’s a secondary biological response to soft tissue trauma that isn’t healing.
In the vast majority of cases, you don’t get heel spurs unless you have a bad case of plantar fasciitis first. In this condition—which is the actual most common cause of heel pain—the strong plantar fascia ligament on the bottom of the foot becomes overstressed, overstretched, and inflamed. This causes it to “pull away” from the point where it attaches to the bottom of the heel bone, leaving a “gap.”
Your body’s attempt to fix this problem is, essentially, to create new bone. Hard deposits of calcium get left on the surface of the heel bone, filling in the space where the fascia used to be. If your plantar fasciitis is untreated for a long period of time, the spur could reach half an inch in length or more!
A Permanent Addition—But Not Necessarily a Permanent Problem
So what happens to that heel spur once the plantar fasciitis finally goes away? Nothing, that’s what. That bony tissue isn’t simply going to break down or dissolve away. It’s there to stay.
But here’s the thing:
Once that plantar fasciitis is gone, the heel spur that remains usually doesn’t cause any problems. In, fact, most heel spurs are themselves totally painless. Unless the spur is pressing on a particularly sensitive nerve or tissue, you shouldn’t really feel it at all.
And because plantar fasciitis is so common—and heel spurs are so commonly linked with it—a lot more people have heel spurs than you might think. By some estimates, as many as 40 percent of the general population have them—and in most cases have had them for years.
We can attest to this fact: a lot of times, heel spurs will show up on X-rays when we’re running diagnostics for completely unrelated issues, like bunions or stress fractures. Often these people do not have any heel pain symptoms whatsoever.
But What About When They Do Cause Pain?
As we said, if you come to our office with heel pain along the underside of your foot, it’s most likely going to be plantar fasciitis, or possibly something like stress fractures or a pinched nerve. And we’ll put you on a treatment plan.
Most of the time, the conservative treatment methods we recommend are going to provide the relief that you need, even if the heel spur itself is contributing at least partially to your symptoms. Custom orthotics, for example, may be an excellent treatment option for both fasciitis and spurs.
That said, it is still possible that the spur may be causing some pain that conservative treatments can’t alleviate, even once the plantar fasciitis is gone. It’s rare, but it does happen.
If this is the case, surgery may be considered. There are a couple of options, including releasing part of the plantar fascia that may be rubbing painfully against the spur, or even removing the spur itself. We’ll carefully consider the best course of action for your situation and discuss all your options with you in detail.
But again, this is very rarely necessarily. Conservative treatments are effective well over 90 percent of the time.
Either way, though, you’re going to want to get a thorough evaluation as soon as you can, whenever you notice heel pain symptoms starting to impact your daily life. The earlier you deal with heel pain, the better. Not only does it mean you won’t be hurting for as long, but it also means that conservative treatments are more likely to work. You may be able to avoid the development of a spur in the first place, or at least limit its size.
To schedule an appointment with the Community Foot Clinic of McPherson, give us a call today at (620) 241-3313.