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).
Early signs of heel pain are usually due to plantar fasciitis, the inflammation of the plantar fascia. It is probably the most common cause of heel pain seen by the podiatrist. It is seen in all groups of people; runners, athletes, weekend warriors, people who have jobs requiring a fair amount of standing, walking, or lifting, and those who have recently gained weight. The pain most often manifests itself after periods of non-weight bearing when the plantar fascia is given a chance to rest, so your first steps cause a sudden strain to the tissue. Pain is most common with the first steps in the morning and after periods of rest. Fortunately, upwards of 80 percent of those treated early do remarkably well with conservative therapy.
The following symptoms are typical of heel spur. Stabbing pain when treading on the area affected. Dull, irregularly occurring pains in the heel area also without exerting pressure (e.g. in a reclining position) Pain when taking the first steps in the morning (after lying or sitting down for an extended period, especially in the morning) Occasional swelling in the ankle area. For the lower heel spur, extreme sensitivity at the tendon attachment (laterally in the lower heel area) For the upper heel spur, extreme pressure sensitivity of the Achilles tendon, primarily at approximately ankle height.
A Diagnosis of Heel Spur Syndrome is a very common reason for having heel pain. Heel pain may be due to other types of conditions such as tendonitis, Haglund’s Deformity, Stress Fracture, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, or low back problems. A more common condition in children is Sever’s Disease. The diagnosis is usually made with a combination of x-ray examination and symptoms.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are many ways to treat heel spurs. Some remedies you can even do at home once a podiatrist shows you how. Heel spur treatment is very similar to treatment of plantar fasciitis. Here are a few of the most common treatments. First, your doctor will assess which activities are causing your symptoms and suggest rest and time off from these activities. Ice packs are used to control pain and reduce symptoms. Certain exercises and stretches help you to feel relief quickly. Medications that reduce inflammation and decrease pain are also used. Sometimes cortisone injections are given. Often special shoe orthotics can help to take the pressure off of the plantar fascia and reduce symptoms. Night splints that keep your heel stretched are sometimes recommended. Rarely, surgery is an option. A new treatment called extracorporeal shock wave therapy is being studied.
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.
Prevention of heel spur syndrome may be best by finding a good supportive shoe. Never go barefoot or wear a flat soled shoe. There are many over the counter arch supports that give increased support for your feet. Usually when there is excessive pronation the Achilles Tendon contracts or becomes shortened over time since it is not being used fully. The shortened Achilles Tendon is called an equinus deformity. By keeping this tendon stretched it may decrease some of the tension in the foot. Some theories believe the Achilles Tendon and plantar fascia is continuous. Before you get up from rest, stretch out your Achilles and the plantar fascia. You may attempt to spell the alphabet with your foot and ankle, use a towel against pressure on your foot, or roll a can of soup or sodapop on the ground. Ice may work well at the times of severe pain. For a chronic pain, or longer lasting pain heat therapy may improve the condition.