Heel spurs are a common foot problem resulting from excess bone growth on the heel bone. The bone growth is usually located on the underside of the heel bone, extending forward to the toes. One explanation for this excess production of bone is a painful tearing of the plantar fascia connected between the toes and heel. This can result in either a heel spur or an inflammation of the plantar fascia, medically termed plantar fascitis. Because this condition is often correlated to a decrease in the arch of the foot, it is more prevalent after the age of six to eight years, when the arch is fully developed.
The plantar fascia is a big strong ligament on the bottom of the foot, starting at the bottom of the heel bone and running into the ball of the foot. As the arch of the foot becomes weak, it sags slightly with each step and this causes the plantar fascia to tug and pull at the heel bone with each step. Over a period of time, a spur forms where this big strong ligament tugs and pulls at the heel bone. Soon, inflammation (swelling) starts around this spur and the pain becomes almost unbearable. (Sometimes heel spurs may be present without being painful if no inflammation is present).
It is important to be aware that heel spurs may or may not cause symptoms. Symptoms are usually related to the plantar fasciitis. You may experience significant pain and it may be worse in the morning when you first wake up or during certain physical activities such as, walking, jogging, or running.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by your physiotherapist or sports doctor based on your symptoms, history and clinical examination. After confirming your heel spur or plantar fasciitis they will investigate WHY you are likely to be predisposed to heel spurs and develop a treatment plan to decrease your chance of future bouts. X-rays will show calcification or bone within the plantar fascia or at its insertion into the calcaneus. This is known as a calcaneal or heel spur. Ultrasound scans and MRI are used to identify any plantar fasciitis tears, inflammation or calcification. Pathology tests may identify spondyloarthritis, which can cause symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Diathermy treatment uses an electrical current to produce heat that sedates the inflamed tissues. The ultrasound device sends sound waves into the heel and sets up a massaging action that stimulates blood circulation. Treatment with a whirlpool bath involves placing the foot directly into the jetting stream. Orthopedic molds and appliances, such as orthotics, are designed by foot specialists for use inside the shoe to eliminate irritation to the heel when the patient stands or walks. When those appliances are used, the spur (in effect) floats on air. At the same time, the body's weight is transferred forward from the tender spot.
When chronic heel pain fails to respond to conservative treatment, surgical treatment may be necessary. Heel surgery can provide pain relief and restore mobility. The type of procedure used is based on examination and usually consists of releasing the excessive tightness of the plantar fascia, called a plantar fascia release. The procedure may also include removal of heel spurs.
To prevent this condition, wearing shoes with proper arches and support is very important. Proper stretching is always a necessity, especially when there is an increase in activities or a change in running technique. It is not recommended to attempt working through the pain, as this can change a mild case of heel spurs and plantar fascitis into a long lasting and painful episode of this condition.