Diagnosing Heel Spurs by Ultrasound

A heel spur is a debilitating condition which causes discomfort right the way across the foot. Typically a quarter of an inch in length, heel spurs are caused by the development of a bony-like growth known as a calcium deposit, extending between the foot’s heel bone and arch. While it may normally appear at the front of the heel, heel spurs can often expand to affect other parts of the foot as well.

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What causes a Heel Spur?

Heel spurs are typically brought on as a result of long-term muscle and ligament strain. Over time, excessive strain on your ligaments can stretch out the heel’s soft tissues and wear them out.

Therefore, since heel spurs are a progressive condition, they won’t appear suddenly after a workout or sports event – a common misconception. Often, they will be brought on as a result of repetitive stress from walking, jumping or running on hard surfaces.

Here are some other causes of heel spurs:

 

  • Heel Bruising.
  • Gender. Heel spurs are typically more common in women than men.
  • Age. Heel spur onset increases in likelihood as you get older.
  • Weight. Heel spurs tend to be more common in overweight individuals.
  • Walking Gait Issues.
  • Arthritis.
  • Incorrect Footwear. Over wearing flimsy footwear like flip flops can heighten the risk.

What are the common symptoms of a Heel Spur?

The most common symptom of a heel spur is a feeling of pain, inflammation and swelling at the front of the heel. The affected area is often warm to the touch and is said to feel as if you’ve stood on a knife when first standing up. Throughout the rest of the day, the pain will lessen into more of a dull ache, with the point of tenderness at the bottom of the heel making it difficult to walk barefoot.

Over time, heel spur pain can spread to other areas of your foot away from the heel. Eventually, a small bone-like protrusion may start to appear, which then helps confirm the presence of a spur.

How are Heel Spurs diagnosed?

Depending on the severity of the heel spur, it can be fairly difficult to diagnose one accurately. This is because the condition shares a lot of similarities with plantar fasciitis, in terms of the type of pain felt and the area which causes the issue. One key difference comes through the longevity of each condition though; heel spurs are there permanently, whereas plantar fasciitis can subside over time.

Another diagnostic difficulty comes through the fact that some heel spurs don’t cause any symptoms at all. Research shows that only 50% of people with heel spurs actually experience any sort of pain from them.

Detecting a heel spur is therefore difficult to do on your own so, if you’re worried that you might have one, you should contact a professional. Our podiatrists here at the Sussex Foot Centre are specially trained to detect a wide range of foot conditions. Listed below are some of the main diagnostic methods we employ:

 

  • X-ray. An X-ray allows your podiatrist to rule out other causes of foot pain, such as a breakage or stress fracture. They also enable underlying bone-like growths to be easily identified.
  • Heel Spurs Ultrasound. The most accurate method for identifying a heel spur comes via a diagnostic foot ultrasound. This painless procedure produces accurate images of your foot’s interior muscles and tendons, allowing your podiatrist to visualise any issues.

What is the process for a heel spurs ultrasound?

While a ‘heel spurs ultrasound’ may sound scary, it really is anything but. The procedure is entirely painless and only takes approximately 20 minutes.

The technique is used to produce accurate images of muscles, ligaments, joints and tendons within your lower limbs. In visualising these internal components, this makes it a lot easier for your podiatrist to see the extent of any issues at hand.

This is what the process typically involves:

 

  1. A small quantity of jelly-like gel will be applied to your ankle/calf area.
  2. Your podiatrist will then move a handheld device across the affected area. This device will use sound waves to capture internal images of your foot and heel. These images will then be shown on an ultrasound monitor in real time, allowing you to see exactly what your podiatrist sees.
  3. Using these images, your podiatrist will then be able to quickly identify whether there is an issue. If there is, they will then determine what the best course of treatment is for you.
  4. Your podiatrist will then talk through with you about what they found, and discuss what the next best steps will be.
  5. You will then start on the appropriate treatment plan, as recommended by your podiatrist.

How are Heel Spurs treated?

Treating a heel spur depends on the severity of the issue. However, the most common treatment options typically include:

  • Ice. This can help to reduce swelling.
  • Painkillers. Anti-inflammatory painkillers reduce pain and inflammation and help with swelling.
  • Stretching. Podiatrist-recommended stretching exercises help strengthen affected muscles and tendons.
  • Rest. Avoiding putting weight on your heel gives it the chance to properly recover.
  • Orthotics. Fitted to the exact contours of your feet and manufactured on site, orthotics are designed to alter the load on your foot and heel, helping ease your pain.

If you are struggling with a pain in the base of your heel, or can feel a bone-like lump protruding out, contact us today to book a heel spurs ultrasound. Our team here at the Sussex Foot Centre are specially trained to diagnose an array of lower limb-related issues.

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