The heel spur (or calcaneal spur) is a nail-like growth of calcium around the ligaments and tendons of the foot where they attach to the heel bone. The spur grows from the bone and into the flesh of the foot. A heel spur results from an anatomical change of the calcaneus (heel bone). This involves the area of the heel and occasionally, another disability, such as arthritis. The heel bone forms one end of the two longitudinal arches of the foot. These arches are held together by ligaments and are activated by the muscles of the foot (some of which are attached beneath the arches and run from the front to the back of the foot). These muscles and ligaments, like the other supporting tissues of the body, are attached in two places. Many are attached at the heel bone. The body reacts to the stress at the heel bone by calcifying the soft tissue attachments and creating a spur.
An individual with the lower legs angulating inward, a condition called genu valgum or “knock knees,” can have a tendency toward excessive pronation. As a result, this too can lead to a fallen arch resulting in plantar fascitis and heel spurs. Women tend to have more genu valgum than men do. Heel spurs can also result from an abnormally high arch. Other factors leading to heel spurs include a sudden increase in daily activities, an increase in weight, or a change of shoes. Dramatic increase in training intensity or duration may cause plantar fascitis. Shoes that are too flexible in the middle of the arch or shoes that bend before the toe joints will cause an increase in tension in the plantar fascia and possibly lead to heel spurs.
The spur itself is not painful, however, if it is sharp and pointed it can poke into soft tissue surrounding the spur itself. As the bone spur irritates the tissue, inflammation and bruising can occur leading to heel pain. Heel spurs can affect your ability to do your usual work and/or activities, and can also trap and irritate the nerves in your heel area. They can change the way you walk, and can lead to knee, hip and low back injuries. If severe, they may require medical intervention.
A thorough medical history and physical exam by a physician 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
Treatment of heel spurs is the same as treatment of plantar fasciitis. Because these problems are related, the treatment is the same. The first step in the treatment of a heel spur is short-term rest and inflammation control. Here are the steps patients should take in order to cure the symptoms of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Avoiding the activity that caused the symptoms is the first step in treatment. For example, take a few day off jogging or prolonged standing/walking. Just resting usually helps to eliminate the most severe pain, and will allow the inflammation to begin to cool down. Icing will help to diminish some of the symptoms and control the heel pain. Icing is especially helpful after a sudden flare up of symptoms. Exercises and stretches are designed to relax the tissues that surround the heel bone. Some simple exercises, performed in the morning and evening, often help patients feel better quickly. Many patients will work with a physical therapist, or you can try some simple activities on your own. If you need some help, meet with a therapist for a few sessions to learn a program you can continue on your own.
Have surgery if no other treatments work. Before performing surgery, doctors usually give home treatments and improved footwear about a year to work. When nothing else eases the pain, here’s what you need to know about surgical options. Instep plantar fasciotomy. Doctors remove part of the plantar fascia to ease pressure on the nerves in your foot. Endoscopy. This surgery performs the same function as an instep plantar fasciotomy but uses smaller incisions so that you’ll heal faster. However, endoscopy has a higher rate of nerve damage, so consider this before you opt for this option. Be prepared to wear a below-the-knee walking cast to ease the pain of surgery and to speed the healing process. These casts, or “boots,” usually work better than crutches to speed up your recovery time.
Heel Spur symptoms can be prevented from returning by wearing proper shoes and using customized orthotics and insoles to relieve pressure. It is important to perform your exercises to help keep your foot stretched and relaxed.