Heel Spurs are deposits of calcium in the heel area of the foot that are the typically the result of tension, abrasion and/or inflammation in the plantar fascia attachment to the heel. The heel spur itself is said not to be painful. The pain likely arises from the inflammation of the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia encapsulates muscles in the sole of the foot. It supports the arch of the foot by acting as a bowstring to connect the ball of the foot to the heel. Common causes of heel spurs include excessive load on the foot from obesity or a sudden increase in weight, a sudden increase in walking or sports activities.
There exists a membrane that covers most of the bone along the heel. When this membrane gets torn repeatedly due to straining of the muscles in the foot, the calcium deposits that lead to heel spurs are more likely to occur.
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.
Diagnosis is made using a few different technologies. X-rays are often used first to ensure there is no fracture or tumor in the region. Then ultrasound is used to check the fascia itself to make sure there is no tear and check the level of scar tissue and damage. Neurosensory testing, a non-painful nerve test, can be used to make sure there is not a local nerve problem if the pain is thought to be nerve related. It is important to remember that one can have a very large heel spur and no plantar fasciitis issues or pain at all, or one can have a great deal of pain and virtually no spur at all.
Non Surgical Treatment
In many cases treatment is non-surgical and can relieve pain, but may take from three months to a year to fully recover. Performing stretching exercises to help relax the tissues in the heel as well as rest, icing, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or prescription medications can help ease symptoms. Customized orthotics or shoe inserts to position and cushion your heel can help.
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 considered.
If you have not yet developed this condition, you can take steps to protect yourself from it. Most importantly, make it a rule to wear properly fitted footwear. Avoid shoes that have become worn down in the heel, and don’t choose shoes that cause you to walk in an abnormal fashion. Maintaining a healthy weight will ensure that undue pressure isn’t being put on the ligaments, tendons and bones of your feet. If your job requires a great deal of time on your feet, or if you exercise regularly, be sure to balance periods of activity with periods of rest for your feet.