A common cause of heel pain is the heel spur, which is a bony growth on the underside of the heel bone. The spur, visible by X-ray, appears as a protrusion that can extend forward as much as half an
inch. When there is no indication of bone enlargement, the condition is sometimes referred to as ?heel spur syndrome.?
Heel spurs result from strain on the muscles and ligaments of the foot, by stretching of the long band of tissue that connects the heel and the ball of the foot, and by repeated tearing away of the
lining or membrane that covers the heel bone. These conditions may result from biomechanical imbalance, running or jogging, improperly fitted or excessively worn shoes, or obesity. Heel spurs
specifically relate to the bony spurs (extra bony growth) that form at the base of the heel. It is a ?spike? of bone that grows from the base of the heel.
A major cause of heel spur pain comes from the development of new fibrous tissue around the bony spur, which acts as a cushion over the area of stress. As this tissue grows, a callus forms and takes
up even more space than the heel spur, leading to less space for the thick surrounding network of tendons, nerves, ligaments and supporting tissue. These important structures in the foot have limited
space because of calcium or tissue buildup, which leads to swelling and redness of the foot, and a deep throbbing pain worsened with exercise.
Symptoms may be similar to those of plantar fasciitis and include pain and tenderness at the base of the heel, pain on weight bearing and in severe cases difficulty walking. The main diagnosis of a
heel spur is made by X-ray where a bony growth on the heel can be seen. A heel spur can occur without any symptoms at all and the athlete would never know they have the bony growth on the heel.
Likewise, Plantar fasciitis can occur without the bone growth present.
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 majority of heel spurs are treated with non-surgical interventions. These can relieve pain, but may take from about 3 months to up to a year for symptoms to resolve. Rest, icing, and
over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or prescription medications can help ease symptoms. Cortisone injections may also be used. Physical therapists may instruct you to perform stretching exercises to
help relax the tissues in the heel. Your doctor may recommend custom orthotics or shoe inserts to position and cushion your heel. Night splints can help position the heel and arch of the foot while
you sleep. Some doctors may recommend extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT). This treatment uses energy pulses to start the repair process in the heel tissues. ESWT is recommend when other
non-surgical treatments have failed.
Approximately 2% of people with painful heel spurs need surgery, meaning that 98 out of 100 people do well with the non-surgical treatments previously described. However, these treatments can
sometimes be rather long and drawn out, and may become considerably expensive. Surgery should be considered when conservative treatment is unable to control and prevent the pain. If the pain goes
away for a while, and continues to come back off and on, despite conservative treatments, surgery should be considered. If the pain really never goes away, but reaches a plateau, beyond which it does
not improve despite conservative treatments, surgery should be considered. If the pain requires three or more injections of "cortisone" into the heel within a twelve month period, surgery should be
Heel Spur symptoms can be prevented from returning by wearing proper shoes and using customized orthotics and insoles to relieve pressure. It is important to perform your exercises to help keep your
foot stretched and relaxed.