Heel spur is a thorn-like, bony protrusion of the heel bone, which can become inflamed through irritation, thus causing pain. A heel spur forms at the tendon attachments on the muscles of the heel bone as a result of micro-injuries to the tissue caused by overstraining. As part of the healing process for these micro-injuries, the body stores bone material in the tendon attachments as a repair mechanism. Heel spurs can develop over a very long period without causing major complaints. However, irritation of the area surrounding the ossified tendon attachment can cause inflammations. Left untreated, the inflammations can in turn lead to increased ossification and thus to permanent degradation with a risk of chronic manifestation. The normal rolling procedure that we all use when walking is then frequently no longer possible.
A heel spur usually develops as a result of wear and tear over time, which leads to the degeneration of connective tissue called fascia. Standing for prolonged periods and wearing shoes that do not provide the right type of arch support can also lead to connective tissue damage in the heel. The body attempts to repair the damaged tissue by delivering calcium to the affected region, but sometimes too much calcium begins to accumulate and this results in painful plantar fasciitis.
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.
Diagnosis of a heel spur can be done with an x-ray, which will be able to reveal the bony spur. Normally, it occurs where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. When the plantar fascia ligament is pulled excessively it begins to pull away from the heel bone. When this excessive pulling occurs, it causes the body to respond by depositing calcium in the injured area, resulting in the formation of the bone spur. The Plantar fascia ligament is a fibrous band of connective tissue running between the heel bone and the ball of the foot. This structure maintains the arch of the foot and distributes weight along the foot as we walk. However, due to the stress that this ligament must endure, it can easily become damaged which commonly occurs along with 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, which is a more radical treatment, can be a permanent correction to remove the spur itself. If your doctor believes that surgery is indicated, he will recommend an operation – but only after establishing that less drastic methods of treatment are not successful.
A variety of steps can be taken to avoid heel pain and accompanying afflictions. Wear shoes that fit well-front, back, and sides-and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid shanks, and supportive heel counters. Wear the proper shoes for each activity. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm up and do stretching exercises before and after running. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. Don’t underestimate your body’s need for rest and good nutrition. If obese, lose weight.