Although a heel spur is often thought to be the source of heel pain, it rarely is. When a patient has plantar fasciitis, the plantar fascia pulls on the bottom of the heel bone. Over time this can cause a spur to form. Heels spurs are a very common x-ray finding, and because the heel spur is buried deep in soft tissue and not truly in a weight bearing area, there is often no history of pain. It is important to note that less than one percent of all heel pain is due to a spur. but frequently caused by the plantar fascia pulling on the heel. Once the plantar fasciitis is properly treated, the heel spur could be a distant memory.
Heel spurs develop as an abnormal growth in the heel bone due to calcium deposits that form when the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel. This stretching of the plantar fascia is usually the result of over-pronation (flat feet), but people with unusually high arches (pes cavus) can also develop heel spurs. Women have a significantly higher incidence of heel spurs due to the types of footwear often worn on a regular basis.
Most people think that a bone “spur” is sharp and produces pain by pressing on tissue, when in fact, these bony growths are usually smooth and flat. Although they rarely cause pain on their own, bone spurs in the feet can lead to callus formation as tissue builds up to provide added cushion over the area of stress. Over time, wear and tear on joints may cause these spurs to compress neighboring ligaments, tendons or nerves, thus injuring tissue and causing swelling, pain and tearing.
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
Heel spurs and plantar fascitis (inflammation of the plantar fascia) are usually controlled with conservative treatment. Early intervention includes stretching the calf muscles while avoiding reinjury to the plantar fascia. Decreasing or changing activities, losing excess weight, and improving the fit of shoes are all important measures to decrease foot pain. Modification of footwear includes well-padded shoes with a raised heel and better arch support. Shoe inserts recommended by a healthcare professional are often very helpful when used with exercises to increase the strength of the foot muscles and arch. The inserts prevent excessive pronation and continued tearing 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.
The best way to prevent heel spurs is by wearing properly fitted footwear. Shoes should have a shock absorbing tread and soles and should be effective in supporting the heel and arch. Proper warm up and stretching before embarking on any physical activity that will put pressure or impact on the area is highly recommended. Also, just as it?s important for your general health, if you can lose some extra pounds, you will be more likely to avoid heel spurs. If you are starting to feel the onset of pain, it may not be heel spurs, but could be a tendonitis condition that could lead to heel spurs.