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.
Heel spurs occur when calcium deposits build up on the underside of the heel bone, a process that usually occurs over a period of many months. Heel spurs are often caused by strains on foot muscles and ligaments, stretching of the plantar fascia, and repeated tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone. Heel spurs are especially common among athletes whose activities include large amounts of running and jumping. Risk factors for heel spurs include walking gait abnormalities,which place excessive stress on the heel bone, ligaments, and nerves near the heel. Running or jogging, especially on hard surfaces. Poorly fitted or badly worn shoes, especially those lacking appropriate arch support. Excess weight and obesity. Other risk factors associated with plantar fasciitis include increasing age, which decreases plantar fascia flexibility and thins the heel's protective fat pad. Diabetes. Spending most of the day on one's feet. Frequent short bursts of physical activity. Having either flat feet or high arches.
Most bone spurs cause no signs or symptoms. You might not realize you have bone spurs until an X-ray for another condition reveals the growths. In some cases, though, bone spurs can cause pain and loss of motion in your joints.
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
The key is to identify what is causing excessive stretching of the plantar fascia. When the cause is over-pronation (flat feet), an orthotic with rearfoot posting and longitudinal arch support will help reduce the over-pronation and thus allow the condition to heal. Other common treatments for heel spurs include Stretching exercises. Losing weight. Wearing shoes that have a cushioned heel that absorbs shock. Elevating the heel with the use of a heel cradle, heel cup, or orthotics. For example, heel cradles and heel cups provide extra comfort and cushion to the heel, reducing the amount of shock and shear forces experienced from everyday activities.
Approximately 2% of people with painful heel spurs need surgery, meaning that 98 out of 100 people do well with the non-surgical treatments previously described. However, these treatments can sometimes be rather long and drawn out, and may become considerably expensive. Surgery should be considered when conservative treatment is unable to control and prevent the pain. If the pain goes away for a while, and continues to come back off and on, despite conservative treatments, surgery should be considered. If the pain really never goes away, but reaches a plateau, beyond which it does not improve despite conservative treatments, surgery should be considered. If the pain requires three or more injections of "cortisone" into the heel within a twelve month period, surgery should be considered.
Choose new shoes that are the right size. Have your foot measured when you go to the shoe store instead of taking a guess about the size. Also, try on shoes at the end of the day or after a workout, when your feet are at their largest. To ensure a good fit, wear the same type of socks or nylons that you would normally wear with the type of shoe that you are trying on.