Heel spur is a thorn-like, bony protrusion of the heel bone, which can become inflamed through irritation, thus causing pain. A heel spur forms at the tendon attachments on the muscles of the heel bone as a result of micro-injuries to the tissue caused by overstraining. As part of the healing process for these micro-injuries, the body stores bone material in the tendon attachments as a repair mechanism. Heel spurs can develop over a very long period without causing major complaints. However, irritation of the area surrounding the ossified tendon attachment can cause inflammations. Left untreated, the inflammations can in turn lead to increased ossification and thus to permanent degradation with a risk of chronic manifestation. The normal rolling procedure that we all use when walking is then frequently no longer possible.
The pain caused by heel spurs can be a sharp, stabbing pain when using the foot after a long period of rest. Sometimes it then reduces to a dull throb that can worsen when engaging in activities like jogging or jumping. People sometimes describe the pain of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis as a pin sticking into the bottom of the foot when they first stand up in the morning, this pain later turns into a bearable ache. The cause of the pain is generally not the heel spur itself, but the soft-tissue buildup associated with it. People often complain that the sharp pain returns after they stand up following sitting for a prolonged period of time.
Symptoms of heel spur syndrome often include pain early in the morning or after rest, as you take the first few steps. It may also include severe pain after standing or walking long hours, especially on hard cement floors. Usually more pain exist while wearing a very flat soled shoe. A higher heel may actually relieve the pain as an arch is created. The pain is usually sharp, but can also be a dull ache. The pain may only be at the bottom of the heel, or may also travel along the arch of the foot.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by your physiotherapist or sports doctor based on your symptoms, history and clinical examination. After confirming your heel spur or plantar fasciitis they will investigate WHY you are likely to be predisposed to heel spurs and develop a treatment plan to decrease your chance of future bouts. X-rays will show calcification or bone within the plantar fascia or at its insertion into the calcaneus. This is known as a calcaneal or heel spur. Ultrasound scans and MRI are used to identify any plantar fasciitis tears, inflammation or calcification. Pathology tests may identify spondyloarthritis, which can cause symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
The first line of treatment for Heel Spur is to avoid the activities and positions that cause the pain. A physician can evaluate your foot with an X-ray to diagnose Heel Spur and determine a course of treatment. This condition can often be treated by non-surgical means; however in severe cases surgery may be necessary to relieve the pain. The most common surgical procedures treat the soft tissues around the Heel Spur, often a tarsal tunnel release or a plantar fascia release. Injections for heel spurs are sometimes controversial as steroids may cause heel pad atrophy or damage the plantar fascia.
More than 90 percent of people get better with nonsurgical treatments. If conservative treatment fails to treat symptoms of heel spurs after a period of 9 to 12 months, surgery may be necessary to relieve pain and restore mobility. Surgical techniques include release of the plantar fascia, removal of a spur. Pre-surgical tests or exams are required to identify optimal candidates, and it’s important to observe post-surgical recommendations concerning rest, ice, compression, elevation of the foot, and when to place weight on the operated foot. In some cases, it may be necessary for patients to use bandages, splints, casts, surgical shoes, crutches, or canes after surgery. Possible complications of heel surgery include nerve pain, recurrent heel pain, permanent numbness of the area, infection, and scarring. In addition, with plantar fascia release, there is risk of instability, foot cramps, stress fracture, and tendinitis.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis can only be prevented by treating any underlying associated inflammatory disease.
A heel spur occurs when calcium deposits build up on the underside of the heel bone. The abnormal calcium deposits form when the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel. This stretching of the plantar fascia is common among people who have flat feet, but people with unusually high arches can also develop this problem. Heel spurs are especially common among athletes who do a lot of running and jumping. Also, women who wear high heels have a significantly higher incidence of heel spurs. Still, it can happen to anyone.
One common cause of heel spurs and related injuries is due to abnormal mechanics and movement of the foot, also referred to as pronation. Abnormal gait, which is the way our feet hit the ground as we walk, also stresses the tissue of the foot, leading to conditions such as plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Pronation can cause the foot to become unstable during movement, affecting the gait and leading to damage. A sudden increase in weight can also influence the development of a painful heel spur.
Pain and discomfort associated with heel spurs does not occur from the spur itself. The bone growth itself has no feeling. However, as you move, this growth digs into sensitive nerves and tissue along the heel of the foot, resulting in severe pain. Pain can also be generated when pushing off with the toes while walking. Swelling along the heel is also common.
Diagnosis of a heel spur can be done with an x-ray, which will be able to reveal the bony spur. Normally, it occurs where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. When the plantar fascia ligament is pulled excessively it begins to pull away from the heel bone. When this excessive pulling occurs, it causes the body to respond by depositing calcium in the injured area, resulting in the formation of the bone spur. The Plantar fascia ligament is a fibrous band of connective tissue running between the heel bone and the ball of the foot. This structure maintains the arch of the foot and distributes weight along the foot as we walk. However, due to the stress that this ligament must endure, it can easily become damaged which commonly occurs along with heel spurs.
Non Surgical Treatment
The most important part of treatment is to rest. Do not undertake activities which hurt the foot or aggravate symptoms as will only cause painful symptoms to persist. Apply an ice pack regularly for 10 minutes at a time every hour initially to reduce pain and inflammation of the surrounding tissues. As symptoms subside frequency of application can reduce to 2 or 3 times per day. Exercises and stretches to keep the foot and ankle strong and mobile are important as long as pain allows. Stretching the plantar fascia is important, especially if symptoms are worse in the morning. A plantar fasciitis night splint is excellent for stretching and preventing the plantar fascia tightening up over night. Anti-Inflammatory medicine (e.g. ibuprofen) may be prescribed by a doctor but always check with a medical professional first as taking some medications such as ibuprofen should not be done if the patient has asthma. Shoe inserts can help to take the pressure off of the spur and reduce pain. If these treatments do not significantly ease the symptoms then surgery may be an option.
Surgery to correct for heel spur syndrome is a common procedure which releases plantar fascia partially from its attachment to the calcaneous (heel bone). This part of the surgery is called a plantar fasciotomy due to the fact the fascia is cut. This is most often done through an open procedure as any heel spur or bursa can be removed at the same time. If the spur is not removed during the surgery, it will probably be just as successful, as the large spur is not the true problem. Some physicians use an endoscopic approach (EPF) where a small camera aids the physician during surgery with typically smaller incisions on each side of your foot.
The best way to prevent heel spurs is by wearing properly fitted footwear. Shoes should have a shock absorbing tread and soles and should be effective in supporting the heel and arch. Proper warm up and stretching before embarking on any physical activity that will put pressure or impact on the area is highly recommended. Also, just as it?s important for your general health, if you can lose some extra pounds, you will be more likely to avoid heel spurs. If you are starting to feel the onset of pain, it may not be heel spurs, but could be a tendonitis condition that could lead to heel spurs.