Heel spurs are a bone growth that extends from the heel bone, particularly on the bottom front of the heel bone and sometimes slightly to the side. Usually, a heel spur forms where the plantar fascia ligament attaches to the bottom of the heel bone. Those who overuse, or put heavy stress on the plantar fascia, are at risk of developing heel spurs.
Heel Spur typically occurs in people who have a history of foot pain, and is most often seen in middle-aged men and women. The bony growth itself is not what causes the pain associated with heel spur. The pain is typically caused by inflammation and irritation of the surrounding tissues. Approximately 50% of patients with a heel spur also experience Plantar Fasciitis.
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 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
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 considered.
You can help prevent heel spur symptoms from returning by wearing the proper shoes. Customized orthotics and insoles can help relieve pressure. It is important to perform your exercises to help keep your foot stretched and relaxed.