Running is one of the best exercises you can do to get in shape and improve your fitness level.
But logging the miles can be quite challenging when you’re dealing with heel spurs.
While taking as many days off is key for a speedy recovery, many runners wonder if they could keep on training with heel spurs.
The answer, as we’re going to see, isn’t that simple as it really depends on many factors.
In this post, I’ll explain what heel spurs are all about, the causes, as well as how to treat and prevent them so you can train pain-free.
Let’s lace up and dig in.
What Is A Heel Spur?
Also known as calcaneal spurs, heel spurs consist of bony, pointed growth that causes a bony protrusion on the underside of the heel bone.
Typically, a spur occurs when the tissues stretching along the sole of the foot—what’s known as plantar fascia—becomes irritated.
The spur may start at the front of the heel then extend toward the arch or toes. This process often takes place over a period of many months.
Heel spurs can be quite painful. However, some people may develop them without having any symptoms.
The condition is usually caused by excessive load on the foot muscles and ligaments. This forces the plantar fascia to stretch and damages the membrane that covers the heel bone.
And it doesn’t happen overnight.
Instead, the spurs form over a long period with excessive and repetitive strain or other injuries.
If you’ve a history of plantar fasciitis, you’ll be more prone to heel spurs.
Sure, some heel spurs may require surgical treatment, but there are plenty of things you can do to soothe the discomfort and pain (some of which will be discussed later in this post).
Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spurs
Heel spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis. But just because you have pain in your heel doesn’t mean a spur.
Plantar fasciitis is an annoying, often stubborn, inflammation of the plantar fascia, the fibrous band of connective tissues that stretches along the bottom of your foot. This band connects your heel bone to the ball of your foot.
Although many runners with plantar fasciitis have heel spurs, spurs DO NOT cause plantar fasciitis.
Additional resource – Guide to big toe pain from running
Causes Of Heel Spurs
Many things can put extra stress on the heel bone to the point that it forms spurs.
- Overstretching of the plantar fascia
- Damaging the foot muscles and ligaments
- Continuous tearing of the thin lining of the heel bone
There are also some risk factors to pay attention to, such as:
- Improper running shoes without proper cushioning and arch support
- Gait abnormalities that affect the feet in general
- Excess weight or obesity
- Spending long times on the feet
- Running on hard or uneven surfaces
- Running gait abnormities, especially when it places extra stress on the heel bone, ligaments, and nerves in and around the heel.
- Having either flat feet or high arches
The Good News
In the midst of doom and gloom, the silver lining when it comes to heel spurs is that most cases typically do not cause pain. They often go unnoticed.
In fact, research has reported that only five percent of people with heel spurs have foot pain.
However, if you do a lot of running, you might experience intermittent or chronic pain in the heel area. This is especially the case when the inflammation is so bad that it gets to the point of spur formation.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Pain on the forward inside or middle of the heel
- Pain with first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning
- Pain after extended periods of sitting or resting. Then fades away after a few minutes of walking.
- The formation of a small lump at the exact affected area.
- Pain getting worse during running or high-impact activity.
How To Deal With Heel Spurs
Here are the steps you need to take to properly manage your heel spurs while running.
Reducing your mileage, or stopping training altogether, is the first step toward a swift and efficient recovery.
Avoid running, jumping as well as standing for long periods of time. This is especially the case if you suspect that your symptoms are triggered by a sudden increase in training load.
Additional resource – Heel pain from running
To soothe pain, ice the affected area using a frozen water bottle. The earlier during onset you do it, the better off you’ll be.
Roll out the affected area of the foot back and forth across the bottle slowly for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times a day. You can also use a simple ice back or ice wrap for less hassle.
Massage The Spur
Massage is another strategy that can help with the pain. This not only feels great, but it’s also a great way to temporarily soothe heel pain and improve blood to the area. It’s also more effective than simply resting your feet.
Gently rub your thumb into the affected area, then gradually ramp up the pressure until you’re pushing hard into the affected area. Just make sure not to apply so much pressure that you’re causing extra pain.
Another effective method for soothing heel pain is stretching the calf muscles as well as other muscles of the lower legs.
Stretching can be performed any time of the day, but I’d highly recommend that you do them post-run and/or at night before bedtime.
Some of the best stretches for heel pain include:
Calf stretch against the wall
Seated foot flexes
Towel grabs with your toes
Calf stretches on a stair
Golf/tennis ball foot rolls
Try Essential Oils
Some essential oils may help reduce swelling and pain by acting as natural anti-inflammatories.
Sure, the research is still in the woods when it comes down to their effectiveness as anti-inflammatories, but they’re worth the try.
Essential oils are cheap, non-invasive, and have little to zero side effects unless you have a history of dermatitis. Just try and see.
Some of the best ones to try include:
- Lavender oil
- Fennel oil
- Thyme oil
- Rosemary oil
- Bergamot oil
- Eucalyptus oil
Another effective way for managing heel spurs is taping the arch or using arch support.
Try OTC Drugs
Anti-inflammatory medication, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, may help reduce swelling and pain.
However, keep in mind that such drugs have many side effects—and shouldn’t be used for more than four weeks without your doctor’s approval.
Some of the most common ones include:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
Consult your doctor before taking any other medications, such as blood thinners, especially if you already have kidney or liver problems.
Try Supportive Shoes & Orthotics
Running shoes that feature thicker soles and added cushioning can help with the pain.
When your foot hit the ground, a drastic amount of stress is put on the facia, which causes tiny tears, or microtrauma, in the tissue.
Using a well-cushioned shoe, or simply adding inserts may mitigate this added stress.
Consider using pre-made or custom orthotics and shoe inserts and see if this helps.
In cases of chronic pain, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid shots.
Cortisone, or steroids for short, is a synthetic version of a natural cortisone that belongs to a family called corticosteroids.
The steroid is typically injected in the most affected spot where pain is the worse, using a thin needle.
The goal is simple: reduce inflammation in specific areas of the body. This, in turn, should help soothe pain and speed up recovery but, of course, won’t resolve the problem completely.
If all non-invasive measures fail to soothe the heel spur, surgery might be the last course.
This surgical intervention involves removing the heel spur. It also sometimes includes releasing the plantar fascia.
Post-surgery, you may find yourself having to use bandages, casts, splints, crutches, as well as surgical shoes until you reach full recovery.
Some of the complications of heel surgery may include recurrent heel pain, nerve damage, infection, permanent numbness of the area, and scarring.
Full recovery post-surgery may take some time, during which you won’t be able to put weight on your foot again. Keep it mobile but keep it slow.
Keep in mind that roughly 90 percent of all people suffering from heel spurs get better with nonsurgical, non-invasive treatments (most of which I’ve shared in today’s article).
Heel spurs are one of many running problems. It’s not a death sentence for runners since a lot of treatment options. Assess your risk and fix the problem earlier so you won’t suffer more.