Heel spurs, or abnormal growths of the heel bone, can cause sharp pains in the heel, especially first thing in the morning and after long periods of rest. In many cases, a heel spur develops as a result of plantar fasciitis, which is the inflammation of the ligament that stretches along the bottom of the foot, from the base of the toes to the heel. In individuals who suffer from plantar fasciitis, the ligament pulls away from the heel as the foot bears weight. In an effort to stabilize the ligament, the body may produce calcium deposits, which can then develop into heel spurs.
The pain caused by heel spurs can be a sharp, stabbing pain when using the foot after a long period of rest. Sometimes it then reduces to a dull throb that can worsen when engaging in activities like jogging or jumping. People sometimes describe the pain of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis as a pin sticking into the bottom of the foot when they first stand up in the morning, this pain later turns into a bearable ache. The cause of the pain is generally not the heel spur itself, but the soft-tissue buildup associated with it. People often complain that the sharp pain returns after they stand up following sitting for a prolonged period of time.
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.
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
The key for the proper treatment of heel spurs is determining what is causing the excessive stretching of the plantar fascia. When the cause is over-pronation (flat feet), an orthotic with rear foot posting and longitudinal arch support is an effective device to reduce the over-pronation, and allow the condition to heal. Other common treatments include stretching exercises, losing weight, wearing shoes that have a cushioned heel that absorbs shock, and elevating the heel with the use of a heel cradle, heel cup, or orthotic. Heel cradles and heel cups provide extra comfort and cushion to the heel, and reduce the amount of shock and shear forces experienced from everyday activities.
Surgery involves releasing a part of the plantar fascia from its insertion in the heel bone, as well as removing the spur. Many times during the procedure, pinched nerves (neuromas), adding to the pain, are found and removed. Often, an inflamed sac of fluid call an accessory or adventitious bursa is found under the heel spur, and it is removed as well. Postoperative recovery is usually a slipper cast and minimal weight bearing for a period of 3-4 weeks. On some occasions, a removable short-leg walking boot is used or a below knee cast applied.
If you have not yet developed this condition, you can take steps to protect yourself from it. Most importantly, make it a rule to wear properly fitted footwear. Avoid shoes that have become worn down in the heel, and don’t choose shoes that cause you to walk in an abnormal fashion. Maintaining a healthy weight will ensure that undue pressure isn’t being put on the ligaments, tendons and bones of your feet. If your job requires a great deal of time on your feet, or if you exercise regularly, be sure to balance periods of activity with periods of rest for your feet.