Heel spurs are a small calcification, which extends into the attachment of the connective tissues from the calcaneus (heel bone). This is easily observed on X-Ray and is very commonly misdiagnosed as the cause of your pain. Why? Because the wrong type of scan is used and only one foot is examined. Do you know if you have a spur on the other heel, the heel without the pain? Probably? and the heel spur would have been there long before you had the pain, and will still be there long after the pain is gone. Heel spurs are not the actual cause of heel pain, and are virtually always a secondary observation or symptom caused by long term pulling on the heel bone.
A major cause of heel spur pain comes from the development of new fibrous tissue around the bony spur, which acts as a cushion over the area of stress. As this tissue grows, a callus forms and takes up even more space than the heel spur, leading to less space for the thick surrounding network of tendons, nerves, ligaments and supporting tissue. These important structures in the foot have limited space because of calcium or tissue buildup, which leads to swelling and redness of the foot, and a deep throbbing pain worsened with exercise.
Heel spur is characterised by a sharp pain under the heel when getting out of bed in the morning or getting up after sitting for a period of time. Walking around for a while often helps reduce the pain, turning it into a dull ache. However, sports, running or walking long distance makes the condition worse. In some cases swelling around the heel maybe present.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by your physiotherapist or sports doctor based on your symptoms, history and clinical examination. After confirming your heel spur or plantar fasciitis they will investigate WHY you are likely to be predisposed to heel spurs and develop a treatment plan to decrease your chance of future bouts. X-rays will show calcification or bone within the plantar fascia or at its insertion into the calcaneus. This is known as a calcaneal or heel spur. Ultrasound scans and MRI are used to identify any plantar fasciitis tears, inflammation or calcification. Pathology tests may identify spondyloarthritis, which can cause symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Ice compresses, stretching exercises, night splint for traction of the leg muscles to stretch the muscle in the back of the leg, and massage of the back of the leg, along with padding and heel cushions are also things that you can do at home. The number one recommendation for relief of heel pain is wearing good shoe gear. Good shoe gear usually consists of a sturdy, solid shoe. Heel pain is not relieved by a soft, ill supported shoe. Shoes such as Nike, K-Swiss, and Avia are the best shoes for this condition. Custom orthotics are highly recommended. Physical therapy is another way physicians treat this condition. Ice packs, muscle stimulation, ultra sound, paraffin baths, and the new Plantar Fascitis Night Splint are also helpful. If all these conservative measures fail to relieve the pain, then surgery is indicated. The newer minimal incision surgeries such as the Endoscopic plantar fasciotomy surgery is extremely beneficial for this condition, and for earlier ambulation, the use of the newer Cast Walking Boot is recommended.
Surgery involves releasing a part of the plantar fascia from its insertion in the heel bone, as well as removing the spur. Many times during the procedure, pinched nerves (neuromas), adding to the pain, are found and removed. Often, an inflamed sac of fluid call an accessory or adventitious bursa is found under the heel spur, and it is removed as well. Postoperative recovery is usually a slipper cast and minimal weight bearing for a period of 3-4 weeks. On some occasions, a removable short-leg walking boot is used or a below knee cast applied.
If you have not yet developed this condition, you can take steps to protect yourself from it. Most importantly, make it a rule to wear properly fitted footwear. Avoid shoes that have become worn down in the heel, and don't choose shoes that cause you to walk in an abnormal fashion. Maintaining a healthy weight will ensure that undue pressure isn't being put on the ligaments, tendons and bones of your feet. If your job requires a great deal of time on your feet, or if you exercise regularly, be sure to balance periods of activity with periods of rest for your feet.