27 Sep 2015
A heel spur is a bony projection on the sole (plantar) region of the heel bone (also known as the calcaneous). This condition may accompany or result from severe cases of inflammation to the structure called plantar fascia. This associated plantar fascia is a fibrous band of connective tissue on the sole of the foot, extending from the heel to the toes.
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.
Major symptoms consist of pain in the region surrounding the spur, which typically increases in intensity after prolonged periods of rest. Patients may report heel pain to be more severe when waking up in the morning. Patients may not be able to bear weight on the afflicted heel comfortably. Running, walking, or lifting heavy weight may exacerbate the issue.
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
Over-the-counter or prescription-strength anti-inflammatory medications can help temporarily, but can cause side effects with prolonged use - the most significant being gastrointestinal upset, ulceration and bleeding. Deep tissue massage, taping and other physical therapy modalities can also be helpful. Arch support is highly recommended, either with shoe inserts or custom orthotics made by podiatrists. If pain continues, a steroid injection at the site of pain may be recommended; however, many physicians do not like injecting around the heel. The side effects of steroids injected in this area can be serious and worsen symptoms. Complications can include fat necrosis (death of fatty tissue) of the heel and rupture of the plantar fascia.
Usually, heel spurs are curable with conservative treatment. If not, heel spurs are curable with surgery, although there is the possibility of them growing back. About 10% of those who continue to see a physician for plantar fascitis have it for more than a year. If there is limited success after approximately one year of conservative treatment, patients are often advised to have surgery.