While the term heel spur may create the impression of a sharp bony projection on the bottom of the heel that pokes the bottom of our foot causing our pain. Painful heel spurs are actually a result of damage to the soft tissue at the bottom of the foot. While this may be confusing, we'll try to explain. Heel spurs is the more common name for a condition that is medically referred to as plantar fascitiis or heel spur syndrome. Plantar fasciitis is a location oriented term that refers to the bottom of the foot(i.e. plantar warts). Fascia is a tough, inelastic band. 'itis'is a term used to describe something that is inflamed (i.e. tendonitis, bursitis).
One common cause of heel spurs and related injuries is due to abnormal mechanics and movement of the foot, also referred to as pronation. Abnormal gait, which is the way our feet hit the ground as we walk, also stresses the tissue of the foot, leading to conditions such as plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Pronation can cause the foot to become unstable during movement, affecting the gait and leading to damage. A sudden increase in weight can also influence the development of a painful heel spur.
Some symptoms at the beginning of this condition include pain and swelling, and discomfort when pushing off with the toes during walking. This movement of the foot stretches the fascia that is already irritated and inflamed. If this condition is not treated, pain will be noticed in the heel when a heel spur develops in response to the stress. This is a common condition among athletes and others who run and jump a significant amount.
A Heel Spur diagnosis is made when an X-ray shows a hook of bone protruding from the bottom of the foot at the point where the plantar fascia is attached to the heel bone. The plantar fascia is the thick, connective tissue that runs from the calcaneus (heel bone) to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue helps maintain the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. In other words, tremendous stress is placed on the plantar fascia.
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.
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.
Use orthotic inserts. You can purchase orthotics over the counter, or you can have orthotics specially fitted by your podiatrist. Try 1 of these options. Heel cups. These inserts will help to align the bones in your foot and to cushion your heel. Check your skin for blisters when you first start using heel cups. Also, your feet may sweat more with a heel cup, so change your socks and shoes often. Insoles. While you can pick up generic insoles at a drugstore, you may have more luck if you go to a store that sells athletic shoes. Push on the arch to make sure that it doesn't collapse. If your insoles help but could use a little work, you can take them to a podiatrist to get them customized. Custom orthotics. A podiatrist can make a cast of your foot and provide you with custom-made orthotics. These may be more expensive, but they are made of materials specifically designed for your needs, and they can last up to 5 years if your podiatrist refurbishes them every 1 or 2 years. To find a podiatrist near you, look at the Web page for the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine. Dynamic Insoles. Lack of elasticity in plantar fascia in the foot is for most people the real problem. If there is poor elasticity in the lengthwise tendons in the foot (plantar fascia) in relation to a person's general condition, only a small additional strain is required for the pull on the tendons to cause damage to the tissues connecting the tendons to the heel bone. This will generate an inflamed condition called Plantar Fasciitis.