In the setting of plantar fasciitis, heel spurs are most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups. The heel spur itself is not thought to be the primary cause of pain, rather inflammation and irritation of the plantar fascia is thought to be the primary problem. A heel spur diagnosis is made when an x-ray shows a hook of bone protruding from the bottom of the foot at the point where the plantar fascia is attached to the heel bone.
Athletes who participate in sports that involve a significant amount of jumping and running on hard surfaces are most likely to suffer from heel spurs. Some other risk factors include poor form while walking which can lead to undue stress on the heel and its nerves and ligaments. Shoes that are not properly fitted for the wearer?s feet. Poor arch support in footwear. Being overweight. Occupations that require a lot of standing or walking. Reduced flexibility and the thinning of the fat pad along the bottom of the heel, both of which are a typical depreciation that comes with aging.
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.
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
FIRST, Reduce the acute pain. This is done by a combination of several things; injection of a synthetic relative of cortisone into the heel, a prescription of anti-inflammatory pills to reduce inflammation, physical therapy and a special heel pad. About 50% of the time, these treatments will permanently relieve the pain. In the other 50%, the pain becomes recurrent, and the treatment proceeds to Stage II. SECOND, Recurrent, painful heel spur is caused by the tug and pull of the plantar fascia ligament on the heel bone with each step. When the pain is recurrent, arch supports are made to prevent sagging of the arch. The arch supports are custom-made according to the size and shape of the feet. This prevents the arch from sagging and the ligament from tugging and pulling on the heel bone. The inflammation and pain eventually go away as the first phase of treatment is continued along with the arch supports, although the spur itself remains. THIRD, Surgery to remove the spur is possible and is usually done as Day Surgery.
When chronic heel pain fails to respond to conservative treatment, surgical treatment may be necessary. Heel surgery can provide pain relief and restore mobility. The type of procedure used is based on examination and usually consists of releasing the excessive tightness of the plantar fascia, called a plantar fascia release. The procedure may also include removal of heel spurs.