A heel spur (or osteophyte) is a small bony growth or collection of bony growths on the back or underside of the heel. They may or may not cause pain, and patients often confuse heel spurs with a related condition known as plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the band of tissue that stretches from the ball of the foot to the heel, forming the arch. Many people have bone spurs without ever knowing it, and about 70 percent of patients with plantar fasciitis who do have discomfort will also be found to have a heel spur when observed via X-ray. It is likely that a bone spur forms as the body tries to repair itself from repeated injury by laying down extra bone at the site of trauma. Plantar fasciitis is typically another result of such trauma. Heel spurs are most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups.
One common cause of heel spurs and related injuries is due to abnormal mechanics and movement of the foot, also referred to as pronation. Abnormal gait, which is the way our feet hit the ground as we walk, also stresses the tissue of the foot, leading to conditions such as plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Pronation can cause the foot to become unstable during movement, affecting the gait and leading to damage. A sudden increase in weight can also influence the development of a painful heel spur.
Heel spurs often cause no symptoms. But heel spurs can be associated with intermittent or chronic pain, especially while walking, jogging, or running, if inflammation develops at the point of the spur formation. In general, the cause of the pain is not the heel spur itself but the soft-tissue injury associated with it. Many people describe the pain of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis as a knife or pin sticking into the bottom of their feet when they first stand up in the morning, a pain that later turns into a dull ache. They often complain that the sharp pain returns after they stand up after sitting for a prolonged period of time.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are diagnosed based on the history of pain and tenderness localized to these areas. They are specifically identified when there is point tenderness at the bottom of the heel, which makes it difficult to walk barefoot on tile or wood floors. X-ray examination of the foot is used to identify the bony prominence (spur) of the heel bone (calcaneus).
Non Surgical Treatment
The heel pain associated with heel spurs and plantar fasciitis may not respond well to rest. If you walk after a night's sleep, the pain may feel worse as the plantar fascia suddenly elongates, which stretches and pulls on the heel. The pain often decreases the more you walk. But you may feel a recurrence of pain after either prolonged rest or extensive walking. If you have heel pain that persists for more than one month, consult a health care provider. He or she may recommend conservative treatments such as stretching exercises, shoe recommendations, taping or strapping to rest stressed muscles and tendons, shoe inserts or orthotic devices, physical therapy. Heel pain may respond to treatment with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve). In many cases, a functional orthotic device can correct the causes of heel and arch pain such as biomechanical imbalances. In some cases, injection with a corticosteroid may be done to relieve inflammation in the area.
Surgery is used a very small percentage of the time. It is usually considered after trying non-surgical treatments for at least a year. Plantar fascia release surgery is use to relax the plantar fascia. This surgery is commonly paired with tarsal tunnel release surgery. Surgery is successful for the majority of people.