A heel spur is a calcium deposit on the underside of the heel bone, often caused by strain on foot muscles and ligaments. Heel spurs are common among athletes but also tend to develop as we age, as flexibility decreases. Heel spurs can be painful when associated with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot.
If left untreated, the mild aches associated with this condition can evolve into chronic pain. And as you try to compensate for the pain, your gait may change, which could impact your knee, hip and back.
Heel spurs develop as an abnormal growth in the heel bone due to calcium deposits that form when the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel. This stretching of the plantar fascia is usually the result of over-pronation (flat feet), but people with unusually high arches (pes cavus) can also develop heel spurs. Women have a significantly higher incidence of heel spurs due to the types of footwear often worn on a regular basis.
Heel spur and plantar fasciitis pain usually begins in the bottom of the heel, and frequently radiates into the arch. At times, however, the pain may be felt only in the arch. The pain is most intense when first standing, after any period of rest. Most people with this problem experience their greatest pain in the morning, with the first few steps after sleeping. After several minutes of walking, the pain usually becomes less intense and may disappear completely, only to return later with prolonged walking or standing. If a nerve is irritated due to the swollen plantar fascia, this pain may radiate into the ankle. In the early stages of Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis, the pain will usually subside quickly with getting off of the foot and resting. As the disease progresses, it may take longer periods of time for the pain to subside.
Your doctor will discuss your medical history and will examine your foot and heel for any deformities and inflammation (swelling, redness, heat, pain). He/she will analyze your flexibility, stability, and gait (the way you walk). Occasionally an x-ray or blood tests (to rule out diseases or infections) may be requested.
Non Surgical Treatment
Ice compresses, stretching exercises, night splint for traction of the leg muscles to stretch the muscle in the back of the leg, and massage of the back of the leg, along with padding and heel cushions are also things that you can do at home. The number one recommendation for relief of heel pain is wearing good shoe gear. Good shoe gear usually consists of a sturdy, solid shoe. Heel pain is not relieved by a soft, ill supported shoe. Shoes such as Nike, K-Swiss, and Avia are the best shoes for this condition. Custom orthotics are highly recommended. Physical therapy is another way physicians treat this condition. Ice packs, muscle stimulation, ultra sound, paraffin baths, and the new Plantar Fascitis Night Splint are also helpful. If all these conservative measures fail to relieve the pain, then surgery is indicated. The newer minimal incision surgeries such as the Endoscopic plantar fasciotomy surgery is extremely beneficial for this condition, and for earlier ambulation, the use of the newer Cast Walking Boot is recommended.
Usually, heel spurs are curable with conservative treatment. If not, heel spurs are curable with surgery, although there is the possibility of them growing back. About 10% of those who continue to see a physician for plantar fascitis have it for more than a year. If there is limited success after approximately one year of conservative treatment, patients are often advised to have surgery.