Heel spurs, pointed, bony outgrowths of the heel, are caused by localized soft tissue inflammation and can be located at the back of the heel or under the heel, beneath the sole of the foot. Plantar fascitis is associated with inflammation caused by heel spurs on the soles of the feet. Both conditions are treated with ice application and anti-inflammatory medications. Orthotics may also provide some relief.
Causes for heel spurs (and related plantar fasciitis) include increase or change in activity, lack of arch support or poor shoe choice, injury, inflexibility in Achilles tendon and calf muscles, and spending hours daily on the feet. Also, arthritis from aging is often a common cause of bone loss and natural cushioning under the heel. Tarsal tunnel syndrome can also be to blame. Ultimately, in the United States, the most likely cause of this pain is being overweight. With more than 60% of the nation obese or morbidly obese, foot pain related to excessive weight is most likely. Dietary changes are most likely to cause long-term relief for bone spurs and plantar fasciitis.
Symptoms may be similar to those of plantar fasciitis and include pain and tenderness at the base of the heel, pain on weight bearing and in severe cases difficulty walking. The main diagnosis of a heel spur is made by X-ray where a bony growth on the heel can be seen. A heel spur can occur without any symptoms at all and the athlete would never know they have the bony growth on the heel. Likewise, Plantar fasciitis can occur without the bone growth present.
Sharp pain localized to the heel may be all a doctor needs to understand in order to diagnose the presence of heel spurs. However, you may also be sent to a radiologist for X-rays to confirm the presence of heel spurs.
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel pain may be associated with a heel spur, however the heel pain is usually due to plantar fasciitis, rather than a heel spur, so treatment is usually directed at the plantar fasciitis itself. Treatment usually involves application of ice to reduce pain and inflammation, special stretching exercises, and pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory medicines. Night splints or orthotics may be recommended. It may help to avoid the activities that aggravate pain, such as long walks and running. Surgery is very rarely recommended and only after other measures fail.
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.