A heel spur is a calcium deposit causing a bony protrusion on the underside of the heel bone. On an X-ray, a heel spur can extend forward by as much as a half-inch. Without visible X-ray evidence, the condition is sometimes known as "heel spur syndrome." Although heel spurs are often painless, they can cause heel pain. They are frequently associated with plantar fasciitis, a painful inflammation of the fibrous band of connective tissue (plantar fascia) that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot. Treatments for heel spurs and associated conditions include exercise, custom-made orthotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and cortisone injections. If conservative treatments fail, surgery may be necessary.
This condition is a constellation of many causes; overweight, ill fitting shoes, bio-mechanical problems (mal-alignment of the heel), gout, pronation (a complex motion including outward rotation of the heel and inward rotation of the ankle) and rheumatoid arthritis are some of the causes of heel pain.
More often than not, heel spurs have no signs or symptoms, and you don?t feel any pain. This is because heel spurs aren?t pointy or sharp pieces of bone, contrary to common belief. Heel spurs don?t cut tissue every time movement occurs; they?re actually deposits of calcium on bone set in place by the body?s normal bone-forming mechanisms. This means they?re smooth and flat, just like all other bones. Because there?s already tissue present at the site of a heel spur, sometimes that area and the surrounding tissue get inflamed, leading to a number of symptoms, such as chronic heel pain that occurs when jogging or walking.
The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.
Non Surgical Treatment
Elevation of the affected foot and leg at rest may diminish the pain. Applying gentle heat to the painful area may ease the pain by dilating local blood vessels. One also can protect the heel by placing a foam rubber pad in the heel of the shoe. A pad about one-half inch thick will raise the heel, shift the weight of the body forward, and protect the irritated muscles attached to the heel bone. The same effect can be achieved by using adhesive tape to turn the foot inward. Additional treatment may consist of a number of physical therapies, such as diathermy, ultrasound waves and whirlpool baths.
In a small number of cases (usually less than 5 percent), patients may not experience relief after trying the recommendations listed above. It is important that conservative treatments (such as those listed above) be performed for AT LEAST a year before considering surgery. Time is important in curing the pain from heel spurs, and insufficient treatment before surgery may subject you to potential complications from the procedure. If these treatments fail, your doctor may consider an operation to loosen the plantar fascia, called a plantar fascia release.