Bone spurs including heel spurs occur as a natural response of the body to wear and tear. Heel spur in particular, can cause pain when it rubs against soft tissues including the Achilles tendon. When that happens movement can become restricted. Spurs can also appear in other joint areas such as under the toenail where it would lead to pain and nail deformation.
Heel spurs are exacerbated by an movements that stretch, twist or impact the plantar ligaments. Running, jumping, standing or walking on hard surfaces with unsupportive shoes, walking barefoot in sand are all activities that can activate heel spurs and plantar fasciitis. Obesity is another factor that increases stress to the plantar ligaments.
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
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.
To prevent this condition, wearing shoes with proper arches and support is very important. Proper stretching is always a necessity, especially when there is an increase in activities or a change in running technique. It is not recommended to attempt working through the pain, as this can change a mild case of heel spurs and plantar fascitis into a long lasting and painful episode of this condition.