The calcaneus is the largest bone in the foot. Pain in the heel region can sometimes be related to Plantar Fasciitis, inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament in the heel area. A heel spur is a hook of bone that forms on the calcaneus where the plantar fascia attaches. Heel spurs can be identified with an X-ray. A heel spur can occur with or without Plantar Fasciitis.
Everyone can be affected by heel spurs, however, certain groups of people have an increased risk. For example, Plantar Fasciitis is a common running injury. People who walk a lot are much more likely to have heel spurs or people who play golf or play tennis. Over-weight people are also more at risk for heel bone spurs as our feet are not designed to carry around extra weight. As a result the ligaments under the foot are placed under constant stress, which inevitably will lead to foot problems.
Most people think that a bone "spur" is sharp and produces pain by pressing on tissue, when in fact, these bony growths are usually smooth and flat. Although they rarely cause pain on their own, bone spurs in the feet can lead to callus formation as tissue builds up to provide added cushion over the area of stress. Over time, wear and tear on joints may cause these spurs to compress neighboring ligaments, tendons or nerves, thus injuring tissue and causing swelling, pain and tearing.
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. The plantar fascia is the thick, connective tissue that runs from the calcaneus (heel bone) to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue helps maintain the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. In other words, tremendous stress is placed on the plantar fascia.
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel spurs can be treated by wearing orthotic insoles inside the shoe. Orthotics are designed to correct incorrect gait, in particular over-pronation (rolling in of the foot and collapsing of the arches). Over-pronation is a very common foot condition, affecting at least half of the population. It is a major contributing cause of heel spurs. Orthotics are very effective in that the device corrects the foot to its natural position. By supporting the arches properly and preventing excess rolling in of the foot, the plantar fascia is placed under much less strain and stress compared to an unsupported foot. Less strain on the ligament means less pulling away from the heel bone, allowing the inflammation to heal faster. In addition to orthotic treatment, most podiatrists and physiotherapists recommend a series of exercises to help make the ligaments in the feet and legs longer and more flexible. In turn this will help reduce strain on the plantar fascia.
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.