A heel spur is a calcium deposit on the underside of the heel bone, often caused by strain on foot muscles and ligaments. Heel spurs are common among athletes but also tend to develop as we age, as flexibility decreases. Heel spurs can be painful when associated with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot.
If left untreated, the mild aches associated with this condition can evolve into chronic pain. And as you try to compensate for the pain, your gait may change, which could impact your knee, hip and back.
One frequent cause of injury to the plantar fascia is pronation. Pronation is defined as the inward and downward action of the foot that occurs while walking, so that the foot’s arch flattens toward the ground (fallen arch). A condition known as excessive pronation creates a mechanical problem in the foot, and the portion of the plantar fascia attached to the heel bone can stretch and pull away from the bone. This damage can occur especially while walking and during athletic activities.
Heel spurs can be quite painful, but can just as likely occur with no symptoms at all. Plantar fasciitis is a contributing condition to heel spurs. The cause of the pain is not the heel spur itself but the soft-tissue injury associated with it. The feeling has been described as a knife or pin sticking into the bottom of your feet when you first stand up after sitting or laying down for a long period of time – a pain that later turns into a dull ache.
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
To aid in the reduction of inflammation, applying ice for 10-15 minutes after activities and the use of anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can be helpful. Corticosteroid injections may also be used to reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy can be beneficial with the use of heat modalities, such as ultrasound, that create a deep heat and reduce inflammation. If the pain caused by inflammation is constant, keeping the foot raised above the heart and/or compressed by wrapping with a bandage will help. Taping can help speed the healing process by protecting the fascia from reinjury, especially during stretching and walking.
Heel spur surgery should only be considered after less invasive treatment methods have been explored and ruled insufficient. The traditional surgical approach to treating heel spurs requires a scalpel cut to the bottom of the food which allows the surgeon to access the bone spur. Endoscopic plantar fasciotomies (EPF) involve one or two small incisions in the foot which allow the surgeon to access and operate on the bone spur endoscopically. Taking a surgical approach to heel spur treatment is a topic to explore with a foot and ankle specialist.