A heel spur is a projection or growth of bone where certain muscles and soft tissue structures of the foot attach to the bottom of the heel. Most commonly, the plantar fascia, a broad, ligament-like structure extending from the heel bone to the base of the toes becomes inflamed, and symptoms of heel pain begin. As this inflammation continues over a period of time, with or without treatment, a heel spur is likely to form. If heel pain is treated early, conservative therapy is often successful, and surgery is usually avoided.
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.
The vast majority of people who have heel spurs feel the asscociated pain during their first steps in the morning. The pain is quite intense and felt either the bottom or front of the heel bone. Typically, the sharp pain diminishes after being up for a while but continues as a dull ache. The pain characteristically returns when first standing up after sitting for long periods.
Diagnosis is made using a few different technologies. X-rays are often used first to ensure there is no fracture or tumor in the region. Then ultrasound is used to check the fascia itself to make sure there is no tear and check the level of scar tissue and damage. Neurosensory testing, a non-painful nerve test, can be used to make sure there is not a local nerve problem if the pain is thought to be nerve related. It is important to remember that one can have a very large heel spur and no plantar fasciitis issues or pain at all, or one can have a great deal of pain and virtually no spur at all.
Non Surgical Treatment
If pain and other symptoms of inflammation-redness, swelling, heat-persist, you should limit normal daily activities and contact a doctor of podiatric medicine. The podiatric physician will examine the area and may perform diagnostic X-rays to rule out problems of the bone. Early treatment might involve oral or injectable anti-inflammatory medication, exercise and shoe recommendations, taping or strapping, or use of shoe inserts or orthotic devices. Taping or strapping supports the foot, placing stressed muscles and tendons in a physiologically restful state. Physical therapy may be used in conjunction with such treatments. A functional orthotic device may be prescribed for correcting biomechanical imbalance, controlling excessive pronation, and supporting of the ligaments and tendons attaching to the heel bone. It will effectively treat the majority of heel and arch pain without the need for surgery. Only a relatively few cases of heel pain require more advanced treatments or surgery. If surgery is necessary, it may involve the release of the plantar fascia, removal of a spur, removal of a bursa, or removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.
Approximately 2% of people with painful heel spurs need surgery, meaning that 98 out of 100 people do well with the non-surgical treatments previously described. However, these treatments can sometimes be rather long and drawn out, and may become considerably expensive. Surgery should be considered when conservative treatment is unable to control and prevent the pain. If the pain goes away for a while, and continues to come back off and on, despite conservative treatments, surgery should be considered. If the pain really never goes away, but reaches a plateau, beyond which it does not improve despite conservative treatments, surgery should be considered. If the pain requires three or more injections of "cortisone" into the heel within a twelve month period, surgery should be considered.