A heel spur occurs when calcium deposits build up on the underside of the heel bone, a process that usually occurs over a period of many months. Heel spurs are often caused by strains on foot muscles and ligaments, stretching of the plantar fascia, and repeated tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone. Heel spurs are especially common among athletes whose activities include large amounts of running and jumping. Heel spurs often cause no symptoms but can be associated with intermittent pain, especially while walking, jogging, or running. Sharp pain in the heel can also be experienced when standing after sitting for a long period of time. Heel spurs can be a result of plantar fasciitis.
Heel spurs develop in some people that have a condition called plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the plantar fascia. Heel spurs form when the plantar fascia separates from the calcaneus. An abnormal bone growth, a hook-like spur, forms from calcium deposits that grow at the site of inflammation. Heel spurs are more common in middle-aged adults and people that have had plantar fasciitis for a long time. People with flat feet or high arches are vulnerable to heel spurs. Women who wear high-heeled shoes are more susceptible, as well.
Most of the time heel spurs present as pain in the region surrounding the spur, which typically increases in intensity after prolonged periods of rest. Patients may not be able to bear weight on the afflicted heel comfortably. Running, walking, or lifting heavy weight may exacerbate the issue.
A thorough history and physical exam 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
There are many ways to treat heel spurs. Some remedies you can even do at home once a podiatrist shows you how. Heel spur treatment is very similar to treatment of plantar fasciitis. Here are a few of the most common treatments. First, your doctor will assess which activities are causing your symptoms and suggest rest and time off from these activities. Ice packs are used to control pain and reduce symptoms. Certain exercises and stretches help you to feel relief quickly. Medications that reduce inflammation and decrease pain are also used. Sometimes cortisone injections are given. Often special shoe orthotics can help to take the pressure off of the plantar fascia and reduce symptoms. Night splints that keep your heel stretched are sometimes recommended. Rarely, surgery is an option. A new treatment called extracorporeal shock wave therapy is being studied.
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.
You can prevent heel spurs by wearing well-fitting shoes with shock-absorbent soles, rigid shanks, and supportive heel counters; choosing appropriate shoes for each physical activity; warming up and doing stretching exercises before each activity; and pacing yourself during the activities. Avoid wearing shoes with excessive wear on the heels and soles. If you are overweight, losing weight may also help prevent heel spurs.