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).
Heel spurs are exacerbated by an movements that stretch, twist or impact the plantar ligaments. Running, jumping, standing or walking on hard surfaces with unsupportive shoes, walking barefoot in sand are all activities that can activate heel spurs and plantar fasciitis. Obesity is another factor that increases stress to the plantar ligaments.
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 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
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are treated by measures that decrease the associated inflammation and avoid reinjury. Local ice applications both reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy methods, including stretching exercises, are used to treat and prevent plantar fasciitis. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or injections of cortisone, are often helpful. Orthotic devices or shoe inserts are used to take pressure off plantar spurs (donut-shaped insert), and heel lifts can reduce stress on the Achilles tendon to relieve painful spurs at the back of the heel. Similarly, sports running shoes with soft, cushioned soles can be helpful in reducing irritation of inflamed tissues from both plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Infrequently, surgery is performed on chronically inflamed spurs.
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.
To prevent this condition, wearing properly fitted shoes with good arch support is very important. If a person is overweight, weight loss can help diminish stress on the feet and help prevent foot problems. For those who exercise frequently and intensely, proper stretching is always necessary, especially when there is an increase in activities or a change in running technique. It is not recommended to attempt to work through the pain, as this can change a mild case of heel spurs and plantar fascitis into a long-lasting and painful episode of the condition.