A heel spur is a bony projection on the sole (bottom) of the heel bone. This condition may accompany or result from severe cases of inflammation to the structure called plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a fibrous band of connective tissue on the sole of the foot, extending from the heel to the toes. 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, and may extend forward toward the toes. A painful tear in the plantar fascia between the toes and heel can produce a heel spur and/or inflammation of the plantar fascia. Because this condition is often correlated to a decrease in the arch of the foot, it is more prevalent after the ages of six to eight years, when the arch is fully developed.
One frequent cause of injury to the plantar fascia is pronation. Pronation is defined as the inward and downward action of the foot that occurs while walking, so that the foot’s arch flattens toward the ground (fallen arch). A condition known as excessive pronation creates a mechanical problem in the foot, and the portion of the plantar fascia attached to the heel bone can stretch and pull away from the bone. This damage can occur especially while walking and during athletic activities.
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 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
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.
Surgery involves releasing a part of the plantar fascia from its insertion in the heel bone, as well as removing the spur. Many times during the procedure, pinched nerves (neuromas), adding to the pain, are found and removed. Often, an inflamed sac of fluid call an accessory or adventitious bursa is found under the heel spur, and it is removed as well. Postoperative recovery is usually a slipper cast and minimal weight bearing for a period of 3-4 weeks. On some occasions, a removable short-leg walking boot is used or a below knee cast applied.
Prevention of heel spur syndrome may be best by finding a good supportive shoe. Never go barefoot or wear a flat soled shoe. There are many over the counter arch supports that give increased support for your feet. Usually when there is excessive pronation the Achilles Tendon contracts or becomes shortened over time since it is not being used fully. The shortened Achilles Tendon is called an equinus deformity. By keeping this tendon stretched it may decrease some of the tension in the foot. Some theories believe the Achilles Tendon and plantar fascia is continuous. Before you get up from rest, stretch out your Achilles and the plantar fascia. You may attempt to spell the alphabet with your foot and ankle, use a towel against pressure on your foot, or roll a can of soup or sodapop on the ground. Ice may work well at the times of severe pain. For a chronic pain, or longer lasting pain heat therapy may improve the condition.