Heel spurs are small lumps of excess bone that grow and stick out on the calcaneus, aka heel bone. They usually develop in response to friction, tightness, inflammation or injury when the body lays down extra layers of bone to try and protect itself. There are two areas where heel bone spurs tend to develop. At the back of the heel: these are usually due to conditions such as Achilles tendonitis, tight calf muscles or wearing tight footwear. These are known as posterior calcaneal spurs. Underneath the heel: these are usually due to conditions such as plantar fasciitis, muscle imbalance or altered foot biomechanics. These are known as inferior calcaneal spurs.
It is widely accepted now that the presence of this bony growth is not the cause of heel pain, but rather an effect of an underlying biomechanical foot problem where the soft tissue structures that are attached to the heel bone are pulling excessively on that area. At some point down the track, heel pain may develop, but the bony heel spur is not the cause of the heel pain.
Heel spur is characterised by a sharp pain under the heel when getting out of bed in the morning or getting up after sitting for a period of time. Walking around for a while often helps reduce the pain, turning it into a dull ache. However, sports, running or walking long distance makes the condition worse. In some cases swelling around the heel maybe present.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are diagnosed based on the history of pain and tenderness localized to these areas. They are specifically identified when there is point tenderness at the bottom of the heel, which makes it difficult to walk barefoot on tile or wood floors. X-ray examination of the foot is used to identify the bony prominence (spur) of the heel bone (calcaneus).
Non Surgical Treatment
Initially, treatment usually consists of a combination of ice therapy, stretching exercises to improve flexibility (especially in the mornings), anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. Most patients will also need custom-molded orthotics to help control the motion in the foot and arch, which takes the strain off the plantar fascia. If the pain continues, a cortisone injection may be used to calm the severe swelling and pain. There may the need for a night splint to maintain a stretch in the plantar fascia throughout the night.
Surgery to correct for heel spur syndrome is a common procedure which releases plantar fascia partially from its attachment to the calcaneous (heel bone). This part of the surgery is called a plantar fasciotomy due to the fact the fascia is cut. This is most often done through an open procedure as any heel spur or bursa can be removed at the same time. If the spur is not removed during the surgery, it will probably be just as successful, as the large spur is not the true problem. Some physicians use an endoscopic approach (EPF) where a small camera aids the physician during surgery with typically smaller incisions on each side of your foot.
Use orthotic inserts. You can purchase orthotics over the counter, or you can have orthotics specially fitted by your podiatrist. Try 1 of these options. Heel cups. These inserts will help to align the bones in your foot and to cushion your heel. Check your skin for blisters when you first start using heel cups. Also, your feet may sweat more with a heel cup, so change your socks and shoes often. Insoles. While you can pick up generic insoles at a drugstore, you may have more luck if you go to a store that sells athletic shoes. Push on the arch to make sure that it doesn't collapse. If your insoles help but could use a little work, you can take them to a podiatrist to get them customized. Custom orthotics. A podiatrist can make a cast of your foot and provide you with custom-made orthotics. These may be more expensive, but they are made of materials specifically designed for your needs, and they can last up to 5 years if your podiatrist refurbishes them every 1 or 2 years. To find a podiatrist near you, look at the Web page for the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Dynamic Insoles. Lack of elasticity in plantar fascia in the foot is for most people the real problem. If there is poor elasticity in the lengthwise tendons in the foot (plantar fascia) in relation to a person's general condition, only a small additional strain is required for the pull on the tendons to cause damage to the tissues connecting the tendons to the heel bone. This will generate an inflamed condition called Plantar Fasciitis.