A heel spur is an abnormal growth of the heel bone, the largest bone in the foot which absorbs the greatest amount of shock and pressure. Calcium deposits form when the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel area, causing a bony protrusion, or heel spur to develop. The plantar fascia is a broad band of fibrous tissue located along the bottom surface of the foot that runs from the heel to the forefoot. Heel spurs can cause extreme pain in the rearfoot, especially while standing or walking.
Heel spurs under the sole of the foot (plantar area) are associated with inflammation of the plantar fascia (fasciitis), the “bowstring-like” tissue stretching underneath the sole that attaches at the heel. Plantar heel spurs cause localized tenderness and pain made worse when stepping down on the heel. Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis can occur alone or be related to underlying diseases that cause arthritis (inflammation of the joints), such as reactive arthritis (formerly called Reiter’s disease), ankylosing spondylitis, and diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. It is important to note that heel spurs may cause no symptoms at all and may be incidentally discovered during X-ray exams taken for other purposes.
You may or may not experience any symptoms with your heel spurs. It is normally the irritation and inflammation felt in the tissues around your heel spur that cause discomfort. Heel pain is one of the first things you may notice, especially when pushing off the ball of your foot (stretches the plantar fascia). The pain can get worse over time and tends to be stronger in the morning, subsiding throughout the day; although it does return with increased activity. A sharp, poking pain in your heel that feels like you’re stepping on a stone can often be felt while standing or walking. You will sometimes be able to feel a bump on the bottom of your heel, and occasionally bruising may appear.
A thorough history and physical exam is always necessary for the proper diagnosis of heel spurs and other foot conditions. X rays of the heel area are helpful, as excess bone production will be visible.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are many ways to treat heel spurs. Some remedies you can even do at home once a podiatrist shows you how. Heel spur treatment is very similar to treatment of plantar fasciitis. Here are a few of the most common treatments. First, your doctor will assess which activities are causing your symptoms and suggest rest and time off from these activities. Ice packs are used to control pain and reduce symptoms. Certain exercises and stretches help you to feel relief quickly. Medications that reduce inflammation and decrease pain are also used. Sometimes cortisone injections are given. Often special shoe orthotics can help to take the pressure off of the plantar fascia and reduce symptoms. Night splints that keep your heel stretched are sometimes recommended. Rarely, surgery is an option. A new treatment called extracorporeal shock wave therapy is being studied.
In a small number of cases (usually less than 5 percent), patients may not experience relief after trying the recommendations listed above. It is important that conservative treatments (such as those listed above) be performed for AT LEAST a year before considering surgery. Time is important in curing the pain from heel spurs, and insufficient treatment before surgery may subject you to potential complications from the procedure. If these treatments fail, your doctor may consider an operation to loosen the plantar fascia, called a plantar fascia release.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis can only be prevented by treating any underlying associated inflammatory disease.