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 develop when the plantar fascia is excessively and repetitively pulled away from the heel bone. In many cases, a heel spur can develop along with plantar fasciitis, but can also occur by itself. Heel spurs often develop in middle-aged patients, but can also occur in younger people as well. Athletes are especially prone to heel spur due to the regular stress on their heels.
The pain caused by a calcaneal spur is not the result of the pressure of weight on the point of the spur, but results from inflammation around the tendons where they attach to the heel bone. You might expect the pain to increase as you walk on the spur, but actually it decreases. The pain is most severe when you start to walk after a rest. The nerves and capillaries adapt themselves to the situation as you walk. When you rest, the nerves and capillaries rest, also. Then, as you begin to move about again, extreme demands are made on the blood vessels and nerves, which will cause pain until they again adjust to the spur. If excessive strain has been placed on the foot the day before, the pain may also be greater. A sudden strain, as might be produced by leaping or jumping, can also increase the pain. The pain might be localized at first, but continued walking and standing will soon cause the entire heel to become tender and painful.
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 key for the proper treatment of heel spurs is determining what is causing the excessive stretching of the plantar fascia. When the cause is over-pronation (flat feet), an orthotic with rear foot posting and longitudinal arch support is an effective device to reduce the over-pronation, and allow the condition to heal. Other common treatments include stretching exercises, losing weight, wearing shoes that have a cushioned heel that absorbs shock, and elevating the heel with the use of a heel cradle, heel cup, or orthotic. Heel cradles and heel cups provide extra comfort and cushion to the heel, and reduce the amount of shock and shear forces experienced from everyday activities.
Surgery to correct for heel spur syndrome is a common procedure which releases plantar fascia partially from its attachment to the calcaneous (heel bone). This part of the surgery is called a plantar fasciotomy due to the fact the fascia is cut. This is most often done through an open procedure as any heel spur or bursa can be removed at the same time. If the spur is not removed during the surgery, it will probably be just as successful, as the large spur is not the true problem. Some physicians use an endoscopic approach (EPF) where a small camera aids the physician during surgery with typically smaller incisions on each side of your foot.