Heel spurs are a common foot problem resulting from excess bone growth on the heel bone. The bone growth is usually located on the underside of the heel bone, extending forward to the toes. One explanation for this excess production of bone is a painful tearing of the plantar fascia connected between the toes and heel. This can result in either a heel spur or an inflammation of the plantar fascia, medically termed plantar fascitis. Because this condition is often correlated to a decrease in the arch of the foot, it is more prevalent after the age of six to eight years, when the arch is fully developed.
Each time we take a step forward, all of our body weight first rests on the heel of one foot. As our weight moves forward, the entire foot begins to bear the body’s weight, and the foot flattens and this places a great deal of pressure and strain on the plantar fascia. There is very little ?give? to the plantar fascia, so as it stretches only slightly, it pulls on its attachment to the heel. If the foot is properly aligned this pull causes no problems. However, if the foot is ?pronated?(the foot rolls outward at the ankle, causing a break down of the inner side of the shoe), the arch falls excessively, and this causes an abnormal stretching of the relatively inflexible plantar fascia, which in turn pulls abnormally hard on the heel. The same pathology occurs with ?supination? (the rolling inward of the foot, causing a break down of the outer side of the shoe). Supinated feet are relatively inflexible; usually have a high arch, and a short or tight plantar fascia. Thus as weight is transferred from the heel to the remainder of the foot, the tight plantar fascia hardly stretches at all, and pulls with great force on its attachment to the heel. In both cases, the abnormal stress placed on the attachment of the plantar fascia to the heel usually causes pain, inflammation, and possibly swelling. If this process continues, the plantar fascia partially tears away from the heel. The body will fill in this torn area with calcium; eventually it becomes bone, and a heel spur results.
Most people think that a bone “spur” is sharp and produces pain by pressing on tissue, when in fact, these bony growths are usually smooth and flat. Although they rarely cause pain on their own, bone spurs in the feet can lead to callus formation as tissue builds up to provide added cushion over the area of stress. Over time, wear and tear on joints may cause these spurs to compress neighboring ligaments, tendons or nerves, thus injuring tissue and causing swelling, pain and tearing.
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
Bone spurs rarely require treatment unless they are causing frequent pain or damaging other tissues. Because heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are so closely related, they are usually treated the same way. Symptomatic treatment involves rest, especially from the activity that is contributing to the condition and making symptoms worse (although this may not be easy to discover, as problems can manifest several hours or days after the harmful activity has occurred). If you identify the offending activity, ice is recommended immediately following it. Stretching of the calf muscles after a short warm up is also a good idea and can be helpful. Stretching exercises that gently lengthen the calm muscle will relax the tissue surrounding the heel and should be done several times a day, especially in the morning and after prolonged sitting.
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.