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.
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.
Some symptoms at the beginning of this condition include pain and swelling, and discomfort when pushing off with the toes during walking. This movement of the foot stretches the fascia that is already irritated and inflamed. If this condition is not treated, pain will be noticed in the heel when a heel spur develops in response to the stress. This is a common condition among athletes and others who run and jump a significant amount.
The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conventional treatment for heel spurs typically includes rest, stretching exercises, icing and anti-inflammatory medications. Many people find it difficult to go through the day without some sort of routine activity or exercise, and this prolongs the heel spur and forces people to rely on anti-inflammatory medications for a longer period of time. This can be detrimental due to the many side effects of these medications, including gastrointestinal problems like leaky gut, bleeding and ulcer symptoms.
Usually, heel spurs are curable with conservative treatment. If not, heel spurs are curable with surgery, although there is the possibility of them growing back. About 10% of those who continue to see a physician for plantar fascitis have it for more than a year. If there is limited success after approximately one year of conservative treatment, patients are often advised to have surgery.