The heel bone is the largest bone in the foot and absorbs the most shock and pressure. A heel spur develops as an abnormal growth of the heel bone. Most commonly, calcium deposits form when the plantar fascia pulls away from the heel area, causing a bony protrusion, or heel spur to develop. While bone spurs can develop in other locations such as the rear of the heel bone, this is the most common location for development. The plantar fascia is a broad band of fibrous tissue located along the bottom surface of the foot that runs from the heel to the forefoot. Heel spurs can cause extreme pain in the rearfoot, especially while standing or walking.
Heel spurs under the sole of the foot (plantar area) are associated with inflammation of the plantar fascia (fasciitis), the “bowstring-like” tissue stretching underneath the sole that attaches at the heel. Plantar heel spurs cause localized tenderness and pain made worse when stepping down on the heel. Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis can occur alone or be related to underlying diseases that cause arthritis (inflammation of the joints), such as reactive arthritis (formerly called Reiter’s disease), ankylosing spondylitis, and diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. It is important to note that heel spurs may cause no symptoms at all and may be incidentally discovered during X-ray exams taken for other purposes.
The vast majority of people who have heel spurs feel the asscociated pain during their first steps in the morning. The pain is quite intense and felt either the bottom or front of the heel bone. Typically, the sharp pain diminishes after being up for a while but continues as a dull ache. The pain characteristically returns when first standing up after sitting for long periods.
Your doctor will discuss your medical history and will examine your foot and heel for any deformities and inflammation (swelling, redness, heat, pain). He/she will analyze your flexibility, stability, and gait (the way you walk). Occasionally an x-ray or blood tests (to rule out diseases or infections) may be requested.
Non Surgical Treatment
Initially, treatment usually consists of a combination of ice therapy, stretching exercises to improve flexibility (especially in the mornings), anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. Most patients will also need custom-molded orthotics to help control the motion in the foot and arch, which takes the strain off the plantar fascia. If the pain continues, a cortisone injection may be used to calm the severe swelling and pain. There may the need for a night splint to maintain a stretch in the plantar fascia throughout the night.
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.