While the term heel spur may create the impression of a sharp bony projection on the bottom of the heel that pokes the bottom of our foot causing our pain. Painful heel spurs are actually a result of damage to the soft tissue at the bottom of the foot. While this may be confusing, we'll try to explain. Heel spurs is the more common name for a condition that is medically referred to as plantar fascitiis or heel spur syndrome. Plantar fasciitis is a location oriented term that refers to the bottom of the foot(i.e. plantar warts). Fascia is a tough, inelastic band. 'itis'is a term used to describe something that is inflamed (i.e. tendonitis, bursitis).
Each time we take a step forward, all of our body weight first rests on the heel of one foot. As our weight moves forward, the entire foot begins to bear the body's weight, and the foot flattens and this places a great deal of pressure and strain on the plantar fascia. There is very little ?give? to the plantar fascia, so as it stretches only slightly, it pulls on its attachment to the heel. If the foot is properly aligned this pull causes no problems. However, if the foot is ?pronated?(the foot rolls outward at the ankle, causing a break down of the inner side of the shoe), the arch falls excessively, and this causes an abnormal stretching of the relatively inflexible plantar fascia, which in turn pulls abnormally hard on the heel. The same pathology occurs with ?supination? (the rolling inward of the foot, causing a break down of the outer side of the shoe). Supinated feet are relatively inflexible; usually have a high arch, and a short or tight plantar fascia. Thus as weight is transferred from the heel to the remainder of the foot, the tight plantar fascia hardly stretches at all, and pulls with great force on its attachment to the heel. In both cases, the abnormal stress placed on the attachment of the plantar fascia to the heel usually causes pain, inflammation, and possibly swelling. If this process continues, the plantar fascia partially tears away from the heel. The body will fill in this torn area with calcium; eventually it becomes bone, and a heel spur results.
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.
A Heel Spur diagnosis is made when an X-ray shows a hook of bone protruding from the bottom of the foot at the point where the plantar fascia is attached to the heel bone. The plantar fascia is the thick, connective tissue that runs from the calcaneus (heel bone) to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue helps maintain the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. In other words, tremendous stress is placed on the plantar fascia.
Non Surgical Treatment
FIRST, Reduce the acute pain. This is done by a combination of several things; injection of a synthetic relative of cortisone into the heel, a prescription of anti-inflammatory pills to reduce inflammation, physical therapy and a special heel pad. About 50% of the time, these treatments will permanently relieve the pain. In the other 50%, the pain becomes recurrent, and the treatment proceeds to Stage II. SECOND, Recurrent, painful heel spur is caused by the tug and pull of the plantar fascia ligament on the heel bone with each step. When the pain is recurrent, arch supports are made to prevent sagging of the arch. The arch supports are custom-made according to the size and shape of the feet. This prevents the arch from sagging and the ligament from tugging and pulling on the heel bone. The inflammation and pain eventually go away as the first phase of treatment is continued along with the arch supports, although the spur itself remains. THIRD, Surgery to remove the spur is possible and is usually done as Day Surgery.
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.
The best way to prevent heel spurs is by wearing properly fitted footwear. Shoes should have a shock absorbing tread and soles and should be effective in supporting the heel and arch. Proper warm up and stretching before embarking on any physical activity that will put pressure or impact on the area is highly recommended. Also, just as it?s important for your general health, if you can lose some extra pounds, you will be more likely to avoid heel spurs. If you are starting to feel the onset of pain, it may not be heel spurs, but could be a tendonitis condition that could lead to heel spurs.