A heel spur (or osteophyte) is a small bony growth or collection of bony growths on the back or underside of the heel. They may or may not cause pain, and patients often confuse heel spurs with a related condition known as plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the band of tissue that stretches from the ball of the foot to the heel, forming the arch. Many people have bone spurs without ever knowing it, and about 70 percent of patients with plantar fasciitis who do have discomfort will also be found to have a heel spur when observed via X-ray. It is likely that a bone spur forms as the body tries to repair itself from repeated injury by laying down extra bone at the site of trauma. Plantar fasciitis is typically another result of such trauma. Heel spurs are most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups.
Diseases such as arthritis may lead to chronic inflammation in the tissue surrounding the heel and over time this can lead to the accumulation of calcium deposits. Ankylosing spondylitis, for example, is one particular form of arthritis that frequently develops along with heel spurs. This condition can damage bones all over the body and even lead to the fusion of spinal vertebrae.
The spur itself is not painful, however, if it is sharp and pointed it can poke into soft tissue surrounding the spur itself. As the bone spur irritates the tissue, inflammation and bruising can occur leading to heel pain. Heel spurs can affect your ability to do your usual work and/or activities, and can also trap and irritate the nerves in your heel area. They can change the way you walk, and can lead to knee, hip and low back injuries. If severe, they may require medical intervention.
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
There are various ways to treat heel spurs. The first is to rest and apply ice to the afflicted area. Shoe inserts and night splints can also treat plantar fasciitis, and in turn, heels spurs. Unless you have stomach sensitivities, you may want to consider taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as naprosyn to lower the swelling. A physical therapist can recommend gentle exercises and stretches to relax the tissue around the heel bone to relieve the tension. Even with these treatments, a stubborn heel spur may not go away. A physical therapist may decide to inject cortisone into the area to decrease inflammation, but that can cause other problems such as plantar fascial rupture and fat pad atrophy. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy is also an option, which uses energy pulses to apply microtrauma around the heel spur. Surgery is also an option but is not suggested unless the heel spur lasts more than a year. To prevent heel spurs from returning, shoe inserts can relieve the pressure on the plantar fascia. Also continue the recommended stretches and exercises.
When chronic heel pain fails to respond to conservative treatment, surgical treatment may be necessary. Heel surgery can provide relief of pain 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. Depending on the presence of excess bony build up, the procedure may or may not include removal of heel spurs. Similar to other surgical interventions, there are various modifications and surgical enhancements regarding surgery of the heel.
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.