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.
Early signs of heel pain are usually due to plantar fasciitis, the inflammation of the plantar fascia. It is probably the most common cause of heel pain seen by the podiatrist. It is seen in all groups of people; runners, athletes, weekend warriors, people who have jobs requiring a fair amount of standing, walking, or lifting, and those who have recently gained weight. The pain most often manifests itself after periods of non-weight bearing when the plantar fascia is given a chance to rest, so your first steps cause a sudden strain to the tissue. Pain is most common with the first steps in the morning and after periods of rest. Fortunately, upwards of 80 percent of those treated early do remarkably well with conservative therapy.
Major symptoms consist of pain in the region surrounding the spur, which typically increases in intensity after prolonged periods of rest. Patients may report heel pain to be more severe when waking up in the morning. Patients may not be able to bear weight on the afflicted heel comfortably. Running, walking, or lifting heavy weight may exacerbate the issue.
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
Over-the-counter or prescription-strength anti-inflammatory medications can help temporarily, but can cause side effects with prolonged use - the most significant being gastrointestinal upset, ulceration and bleeding. Deep tissue massage, taping and other physical therapy modalities can also be helpful. Arch support is highly recommended, either with shoe inserts or custom orthotics made by podiatrists. If pain continues, a steroid injection at the site of pain may be recommended; however, many physicians do not like injecting around the heel. The side effects of steroids injected in this area can be serious and worsen symptoms. Complications can include fat necrosis (death of fatty tissue) of the heel and rupture of the plantar fascia.
Usually, heel spurs are curable with conservative treatment. If not, heel spurs are curable with surgery, although there is the possibility of them growing back. About 10% of those who continue to see a physician for plantar fascitis have it for more than a year. If there is limited success after approximately one year of conservative treatment, patients are often advised to have surgery.