A heel spur (or osteophyte) is a small bony growth or collection of bony growths on the back or underside of the heel. They may or may not cause pain, and patients often confuse heel spurs with a related condition known as plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the band of tissue that stretches from the ball of the foot to the heel, forming the arch. Many people have bone spurs without ever knowing it, and about 70 percent of patients with plantar fasciitis who do have discomfort will also be found to have a heel spur when observed via X-ray. It is likely that a bone spur forms as the body tries to repair itself from repeated injury by laying down extra bone at the site of trauma. Plantar fasciitis is typically another result of such trauma. Heel spurs are most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups.
When a patient has plantar fasciitis, the plantar fascia becomes inflamed and degenerative (worn out)--these abnormalities can make normal activities quite painful. Symptoms typically worsen early in the morning after sleep. At that time, the plantar fascia is tight so even simple movements stretch the contracted plantar fascia. As you begin to loosen the plantar fascia, the pain usually subsides, but often returns with prolonged standing or walking.
Heel spurs result in a jabbing or aching sensation on or under the heel bone. The pain is often worst when you first arise in the morning and get to your feet. You may also experience pain when standing up after prolonged periods of sitting, such as work sessions at a desk or car rides. The discomfort may lessen after you spend several minutes walking, only to return later. Heel spurs can cause intermittent or chronic pain.
Because the diagnosis of heel spurs can be confused with tarsal tunnel syndrome (as described earlier), most surgeons advocate performing a tarsal tunnel release (or at least a partial tarsal tunnel release) along with the plantar fascia release. This surgery is about 80percent successful in relieving pain in the small group of patients who do not improve with conservative treatments.
Non Surgical Treatment
Acupuncture and acupressure can used to address the pain of heel spurs, in addition to using friction massage to help break up scar tissue and delay the onset of bony formations. Physical therapy may help relieve pain and improve movement. The Feldenkrais method could be especially helpful for retraining some of the compensation movements caused by the pain from the spur. Guided imagery or a light massage on the foot may help to relieve some of the pain. Other treatments include low-gear cycling, and pool running. Some chiropractors approve of moderate use of aspirin or ibuprofen, or other appropriate anti-inflammatory drugs. Chiropractic manipulation is not recommended, although chiropractors may offer custom-fitted shoe orthotics and other allopathic-type treatments.
In a small number of cases (usually less than 5 percent), patients may not experience relief after trying the recommendations listed above. It is important that conservative treatments (such as those listed above) be performed for AT LEAST a year before considering surgery. Time is important in curing the pain from heel spurs, and insufficient treatment before surgery may subject you to potential complications from the procedure. If these treatments fail, your doctor may consider an operation to loosen the plantar fascia, called a plantar fascia release.
In 2002, researchers attempted to compare the effects of various running techniques on pronation and resulting injuries like stress fractures and heel spurs. They suggested that it is possible to teach runners to stride in such a way as to minimize impact forces. One way is to lower running speed. Another is to take longer rest periods following a run.