A heel spur is a calcium deposit on the underside of the heel bone, often caused by strain on foot muscles and ligaments. Heel spurs are common among athletes but also tend to develop as we age, as flexibility decreases. Heel spurs can be painful when associated with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot.
If left untreated, the mild aches associated with this condition can evolve into chronic pain. And as you try to compensate for the pain, your gait may change, which could impact your knee, hip and back.
You are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis and heel spurs if you are Active. Sports that place excessive stress on the heel bone and attached tissue, especially if you have tight calf muscles or a stiff ankle from a previous ankle sprain, which limits ankle movement eg. running, ballet dancing and aerobics. Overweight. Carrying around extra weight increases the strain and stress on your plantar fascia. Pregnant. The weight gain and swelling associated with pregnancy can cause ligaments to become more relaxed, which can lead to mechanical problems and inflammation. On your feet. Having a job that requires a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces ie factory workers, teachers and waitresses. Flat Feet or High Foot Arches. Changes in the arch of your foot changes the shock absorption ability and can stretch and strain the plantar fascia, which then has to absorb the additional force. Middle-Aged or Older. With ageing the arch of your foot may begin to sag - putting extra stress on the plantar fascia. Wearing shoes with poor support. Weak Foot Arch Muscles. Muscle fatigue allows your plantar fascia to overstress and cause injury. Arthritis. Some types of arthritis can cause inflammation in the tendons in the bottom of your foot, which may lead to plantar fasciitis. Diabetes. Although doctors don't know why, plantar fasciitis occurs more often in people with diabetes.
Heel spur and plantar fasciitis pain usually begins in the bottom of the heel, and frequently radiates into the arch. At times, however, the pain may be felt only in the arch. The pain is most intense when first standing, after any period of rest. Most people with this problem experience their greatest pain in the morning, with the first few steps after sleeping. After several minutes of walking, the pain usually becomes less intense and may disappear completely, only to return later with prolonged walking or standing. If a nerve is irritated due to the swollen plantar fascia, this pain may radiate into the ankle. In the early stages of Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis, the pain will usually subside quickly with getting off of the foot and resting. As the disease progresses, it may take longer periods of time for the pain to subside.
A thorough history and physical exam is always necessary for the proper diagnosis of heel spurs and other foot conditions. X rays of the heel area are helpful, as excess bone production will be visible.
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.
Heel spur surgery should only be considered after less invasive treatment methods have been explored and ruled insufficient. The traditional surgical approach to treating heel spurs requires a scalpel cut to the bottom of the food which allows the surgeon to access the bone spur. Endoscopic plantar fasciotomies (EPF) involve one or two small incisions in the foot which allow the surgeon to access and operate on the bone spur endoscopically. Taking a surgical approach to heel spur treatment is a topic to explore with a foot and ankle specialist.
Walk around before you buy shoes. Before you purchase your shoes, do the following. Re-lace the shoes if you're trying on athletic shoes. Start at the farthest eyelets and apply even pressure to the laces as you come closer to the tongue of the shoe. Make sure that you can wiggle your toes freely inside of the shoe. Also, make sure that you have at enough space between your tallest toe and the end of the shoe. You should have room equal to about the width of your thumb in the tip of your shoe. Walk around to make sure that the shoe has a firm grip on your heel without sliding up and down. Walk or run a few steps to make sure your shoes are comfortable. Shoes that fit properly require no break-in period.