Although you might often see heel spurs and plantar fasciitis discussed together, they are actually two different ailments and do not always go hand-in-hand. In this article, we’ll compare the two and show you the similarities and differences.
We will cover common symptoms, causes, and treatments as well as explaining why these two injuries are often confused together.
What are Heel Spurs?
Let’s start with the basics. A heel spur is a bone growth on your heel that can stick out some, but you’ll only be able to see it from an x-ray. You may experience pain due to this growth.
Bony growths can occur anywhere in the body, but heel spurs are fairly common.
An obvious symptom is pain in your heel area, but there’s a good chance that you won’t experience any pain at all. A very small portion of the roughly 10 percent of people that have heel spurs deal with pain.
Although it seems somewhat counterintuitive, heel pain tends to be the worst when you get up in the mornings. It often improves as you go about your day, but may worsen after you have been seated or at rest for a while and then get back up.
There are a variety of risk factors for heel spurs. Unfortunately, if you’re a runner or other athlete, you’re at a greater risk for developing heel spurs. This is compounded if you wear high heels a lot or don’t wear shoes that fit well.
If you’re overweight or if you’re pregnant, you also might be more likely to deal with heel spurs as well as if you tend to stand for a good portion of the day. Getting older also naturally leads to weakening of the muscles, making your feet more susceptible to injury.
The reason why you are more likely to develop heel spurs if you are active, wear high heels, or stand all day is that you’re putting more pressure on your heels that isn’t supposed to be there. As a result, heel spurs develop.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Although it has a really weird spelling (don’t forget those two i’s), plantar fasciitis is a common condition that affects millions of patients a year. It is what causes pain in your heels much of the time.
The numbers reveal this fact. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, around two million patients are treated every year for plantar fasciitis, which occurs when the band of tissue that connects your heel to the front of your foot is inflamed.
Like heel spurs, plantar fasciitis pain is typically the worst in the mornings. You will likely feel a stabbing pain in your feet as you roll out of bed. It often gets better as you move around, but it might come back with a vengeance if you stand for long periods of time.
If you are a runner or athlete, you shouldn’t feel pain during exercise from plantar fasciitis, but you will likely feel it after you run, hit the elliptical, or exercise. Plantar fasciitis pain can also reappear if you’ve sat for a long period of time and then stood up.
Plantar fasciitis doesn’t always have a reason, but it typically develops if you have one or more risk factors. For example, if you’re older, you’re more likely to get plantar fasciitis. It typically occurs in individuals between the ages of 40 and 60.
Similarly, if you spend a lot of time on your feet whether that’s running or walking or standing all day as a nurse, teacher, or factory worker, you are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis.
If you add these factors to other physical characteristics like the mechanics of your feet or being overweight, you’re much more likely to get plantar fasciitis. Typically, a high arch or even a unique way of walking can increase your chances for this injury.
What are the Similarities Between Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis?
With both heel spurs and plantar fasciitis, you could feel pain in your heel due to inflammation around the heel. Typically, the pain is worse in the mornings and may flare up later in the day if you stand after sitting for a while.
Heel pain—whether it’s from heel spurs or plantar fasciitis—can take a good amount of time to heal. You could be looking at up to nine months before the pain completely goes away, and that’s even if you’re resting and doing what you can to control the inflammation.
What are the Differences Between Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis?
Although heel spurs and plantar fasciitis do sometimes go hand-in-hand, they don’t have to. This means that heel spurs are not the cause of pain from plantar fasciitis. In fact, in most cases, people with heel spurs don’t experience pain at all.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, only 5 percent of people who have heel spurs deal with any foot pain. Typically, there is no need to remove a heel spur if you have plantar fasciitis pain.
This is because a heel spur is an outgrowth on the heel bone while plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a tissue that runs from the heel to the toes, covering the bones on the bottom of your feet.
What Are Some Treatments for Heel Pain?
Fortunately, heel pain can typically be treated at home. Only in rare cases will you need to get a steroid injection or have surgery on your foot. The most important thing you can do is rest. If you’ve been training hard, maybe cut back for a while.
Make sure to stretch when you get up in the morning, particularly the bottom of your foot, as well as before any type of physical activity. Massaging your heel may also help. You may also want to consider purchasing new shoes for heel spurs or shoes for plantar fasciitis. These should have better arch support or be able to accommodate inserts to put in your shoes.
If you want to feel better in the mornings, you can try using a night splint that will keep your heel gently stretched when you’re sleeping. This should make your feet feel more comfortable when you get up in the morning. At home exercises and stretching can also help.
Finally, if you’re dealing with inflammation, be sure to use the medication that you need to make sure that you aren’t uncomfortable. It’s probably a better idea to use ibuprofen or naproxen instead of an acetaminophen.
You also likely may want to ice your heels every 1-2 hours as needed or anytime that you deal with more pain than usual. You’ll want to use a bag of frozen vegetables or an ice pack for 10-20 minutes on your heels to help with the inflammation.
Although heel spurs and plantar fasciitis sometimes come together, they don’t always. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between the two so that you can properly identify them.
Make sure that you’re taking the proper amount of time to rest, stretch, get new shoes or inserts, and put as little stress as possible on your feet. While it may take some time, your heel pain—whether it’s caused by heel spurs or plantar fasciitis—will eventually go away.