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).
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.
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.
Your doctor will discuss your medical history and will examine your foot and heel for any deformities and inflammation (swelling, redness, heat, pain). He/she will analyze your flexibility, stability, and gait (the way you walk). Occasionally an x-ray or blood tests (to rule out diseases or infections) may be requested.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are various ways to treat heel spurs. The first is to rest and apply ice to the afflicted area. Shoe inserts and night splints can also treat plantar fasciitis, and in turn, heels spurs. Unless you have stomach sensitivities, you may want to consider taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as naprosyn to lower the swelling. A physical therapist can recommend gentle exercises and stretches to relax the tissue around the heel bone to relieve the tension. Even with these treatments, a stubborn heel spur may not go away. A physical therapist may decide to inject cortisone into the area to decrease inflammation, but that can cause other problems such as plantar fascial rupture and fat pad atrophy. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy is also an option, which uses energy pulses to apply microtrauma around the heel spur. Surgery is also an option but is not suggested unless the heel spur lasts more than a year. To prevent heel spurs from returning, shoe inserts can relieve the pressure on the plantar fascia. Also continue the recommended stretches and exercises.
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.