Heel spurs are small lumps of excess bone that grow and stick out on the calcaneus, aka heel bone. They usually develop in response to friction, tightness, inflammation or injury when the body lays down extra layers of bone to try and protect itself. There are two areas where heel bone spurs tend to develop. At the back of the heel: these are usually due to conditions such as Achilles tendonitis, tight calf muscles or wearing tight footwear. These are known as posterior calcaneal spurs. Underneath the heel: these are usually due to conditions such as plantar fasciitis, muscle imbalance or altered foot biomechanics. These are known as inferior calcaneal spurs.
Bone spurs can form anywhere in the feet in response to tight ligaments, repetitive stress injuries (typically from sports), obesity, even poorly fitting shoes. For instance, when the plantar fascia on the bottom of the foot pulls repeatedly on the heel, the ligament becomes inflamed, causing plantar fasciitis. As the bone tries to mend itself, a bone spur forms on the bottom of the heel, typically referred to as a heel spur. This is a common source of heel pain.
The pain caused by a calcaneal spur is not the result of the pressure of weight on the point of the spur, but results from inflammation around the tendons where they attach to the heel bone. You might expect the pain to increase as you walk on the spur, but actually it decreases. The pain is most severe when you start to walk after a rest. The nerves and capillaries adapt themselves to the situation as you walk. When you rest, the nerves and capillaries rest, also. Then, as you begin to move about again, extreme demands are made on the blood vessels and nerves, which will cause pain until they again adjust to the spur. If excessive strain has been placed on the foot the day before, the pain may also be greater. A sudden strain, as might be produced by leaping or jumping, can also increase the pain. The pain might be localized at first, but continued walking and standing will soon cause the entire heel to become tender and painful.
A Heel Spur diagnosis is made when an X-ray shows a hook of bone protruding from the bottom of the foot at the point where the plantar fascia is attached to the heel bone. The plantar fascia is the thick, connective tissue that runs from the calcaneus (heel bone) to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue helps maintain the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. In other words, tremendous stress is placed on the plantar fascia.
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel spurs can be treated by wearing orthotic insoles inside the shoe. Orthotics are designed to correct incorrect gait, in particular over-pronation (rolling in of the foot and collapsing of the arches). Over-pronation is a very common foot condition, affecting at least half of the population. It is a major contributing cause of heel spurs. Orthotics are very effective in that the device corrects the foot to its natural position. By supporting the arches properly and preventing excess rolling in of the foot, the plantar fascia is placed under much less strain and stress compared to an unsupported foot. Less strain on the ligament means less pulling away from the heel bone, allowing the inflammation to heal faster. In addition to orthotic treatment, most podiatrists and physiotherapists recommend a series of exercises to help make the ligaments in the feet and legs longer and more flexible. In turn this will help reduce strain on the plantar fascia.
Most studies indicate that 95% of those afflicted with heel spurs are able to relieve their heel pain with nonsurgical treatments. If you are one of the few people whose symptoms don?t improve with other treatments, your doctor may recommend plantar fascia release surgery. Plantar fascia release involves cutting part of the plantar fascia ligament in order to release the tension and relieve the inflammation of the ligament. Sometimes the bone spur is also removed, if there is a large spur (remember that the bone spur is rarely a cause of pain. Overall, the success rate of surgical release is 70 to 90 percent in patients with heel spurs. One should always be sure to understand all the risks associated with any surgery they are considering.