A heel spur is an overgrowth of bone that resembles a hook on the bottom of the foot. It is a reaction to stress placed on the thick connective tissue on the bottom of the foot (plantar fascia) that helps maintain the arches of the foot. Over-stress can stem from improper support of the feet. A heel spur is often accompanied by a bursitis that is a major contributor to pain.
Everyone can be affected by heel spurs, however, certain groups of people have an increased risk. For example, Plantar Fasciitis is a common running injury. People who walk a lot are much more likely to have heel spurs or people who play golf or play tennis. Over-weight people are also more at risk for heel bone spurs as our feet are not designed to carry around extra weight. As a result the ligaments under the foot are placed under constant stress, which inevitably will lead to foot problems.
Symptoms of heel spur syndrome often include pain early in the morning or after rest, as you take the first few steps. It may also include severe pain after standing or walking long hours, especially on hard cement floors. Usually more pain exist while wearing a very flat soled shoe. A higher heel may actually relieve the pain as an arch is created. The pain is usually sharp, but can also be a dull ache. The pain may only be at the bottom of the heel, or may also travel along the arch of the foot.
Because the diagnosis of heel spurs can be confused with tarsal tunnel syndrome (as described earlier), most surgeons advocate performing a tarsal tunnel release (or at least a partial tarsal tunnel release) along with the plantar fascia release. This surgery is about 80percent successful in relieving pain in the small group of patients who do not improve with conservative treatments.
Non Surgical Treatment
Only in rare cases do the symptoms of heel spurs fail to be resolved through conservative treatment. Conservative treatment, although not 100% effective, is successful in most cases and should be given ample time to work. In many cases, conservative methods should be utilized as long as a year depending on the rate at which your body responds to the treatment. When treatment is unsuccessful, surgery may be considered. A common surgical procedure for this condition is plantar fascia release surgery. In this procedure, the tension of the plantar fascia ligament is released, lessening tension in the heel and helping to prevent damage.
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.
You can help prevent heel spur symptoms from returning by wearing the proper shoes. Customized orthotics and insoles can help relieve pressure. It is important to perform your exercises to help keep your foot stretched and relaxed.