The heel spur (or calcaneal spur) is a nail-like growth of calcium around the ligaments and tendons of the foot where they attach to the heel bone. The spur grows from the bone and into the flesh of the foot. A heel spur results from an anatomical change of the calcaneus (heel bone). This involves the area of the heel and occasionally, another disability, such as arthritis. The heel bone forms one end of the two longitudinal arches of the foot. These arches are held together by ligaments and are activated by the muscles of the foot (some of which are attached beneath the arches and run from the front to the back of the foot). These muscles and ligaments, like the other supporting tissues of the body, are attached in two places. Many are attached at the heel bone. The body reacts to the stress at the heel bone by calcifying the soft tissue attachments and creating a spur.
Bone spurs can occur all over the body including the spine, shoulders, hands, hips and feet. The feet are a common place to find them. A heel spur happens when the body tries to mend itself. Building extra bone is one way your body tries to correct a weakness. Wearing shoes that are too tight in the heel can cause bone spurs. More women than men get heel spurs because of the kinds of shoes they wear. Athletes who stress their feet and legs routinely are also prone to heel spurs. Being overweight can also indirectly cause heel spurs by over-exerting the plantar fascia. Some heel spurs are caused by the aging process, in which the cartilage covering the ends of bones wears away. This process can lead to pain, swelling and spur formation. Stress-related problems with the plantar fascia frequently lead to heel spurs.
An individual with the lower legs turning inward, a condition called genu valgus or "knock knees," can have a tendency toward excessive pronation. This can lead to a fallen arch and problems with the plantar fascia and heel spurs. Women tend to suffer from this condition more than men. Heel spurs can also result from an abnormally high arch. Other factors leading to heel spurs include a sudden increase in daily activities, an increase in weight, or a thinner cushion on the bottom of the heel due to old age. A significant increase in training intensity or duration may cause inflammation of the plantar fascia. High-heeled shoes, improperly fitted shoes, and shoes that are too flexible in the middle of the arch or bend before the toe joints will cause problems with the plantar fascia and possibly lead to heel spurs.
A thorough history and physical exam is always necessary for the proper diagnosis of heel spurs and other foot conditions. X rays of the heel area are helpful, as excess bone production will be visible.
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are treated by measures that decrease the associated inflammation and avoid reinjury. Local ice applications both reduce pain and inflammation. Physical therapy methods, including stretching exercises, are used to treat and prevent plantar fasciitis. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or injections of cortisone, are often helpful. Orthotic devices or shoe inserts are used to take pressure off plantar spurs (donut-shaped insert), and heel lifts can reduce stress on the Achilles tendon to relieve painful spurs at the back of the heel. Similarly, sports running shoes with soft, cushioned soles can be helpful in reducing irritation of inflamed tissues from both plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Infrequently, surgery is performed on chronically inflamed spurs.
Surgery is used a very small percentage of the time. It is usually considered after trying non-surgical treatments for at least a year. Plantar fascia release surgery is use to relax the plantar fascia. This surgery is commonly paired with tarsal tunnel release surgery. Surgery is successful for the majority of people.
Walk around before you buy shoes. Before you purchase your shoes, do the following. Re-lace the shoes if you're trying on athletic shoes. Start at the farthest eyelets and apply even pressure to the laces as you come closer to the tongue of the shoe. Make sure that you can wiggle your toes freely inside of the shoe. Also, make sure that you have at enough space between your tallest toe and the end of the shoe. You should have room equal to about the width of your thumb in the tip of your shoe. Walk around to make sure that the shoe has a firm grip on your heel without sliding up and down. Walk or run a few steps to make sure your shoes are comfortable. Shoes that fit properly require no break-in period.