Heel Spur (Heel Spurs)

Information on Heel Spur by the plantar fasciitis organization..

Heel spurs are a relatively common cause of heel pain. A heel spur is a pointed bone fragment that extends forward from the bottom of the heel from the heel bone, also referred to as a calcaneous. Serious pain and discomfort often develops with this condition. In many cases, a heel spur develops along with plantar fasciitis which occurs when the plantar fascia ligament becomes inflamed.

Most patients who are suffering with heel spurs can see them with an X-ray scan. They are normally hooked and extend into the heel. Some people who have heel spur may not even have noticeable symptoms, although could still be able to see a spur in an X-ray scan.

Signs and Symptoms of Heel Spurs

Patients who have a heel spur often have a history of plantar fasciitis and heel pain. Like plantar fasciitis, heel spurs often develop among middle-aged men and women. However, heel spurs can develop in people of all ages. Athletes are particularly prone to heel spurs, especially those who run and jump regularly.

One common cause of heel spurs and related injuries is due to abnormal mechanics and movement of the foot, also referred to as pronation. Abnormal gait, which is the way our feet hit the ground as we walk, also stresses the tissue of the foot, leading to conditions such as plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Pronation can cause the foot to become unstable during movement, affecting the gait and leading to damage. A sudden increase in weight can also influence the development of a painful heel spur.

Pain and discomfort associated with heel spurs does not occur from the spur itself. The bone growth itself has no feeling. However, as you move, this growth digs into sensitive nerves and tissue along the heel of the foot, resulting in severe pain. Pain can also be generated when pushing off with the toes while walking. Swelling along the heel is also common.

Diagnosis of a heel spur can be done with an x-ray, which will be able to reveal the bony spur. Normally, it occurs where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. When the plantar fascia ligament is pulled excessively it begins to pull away from the heel bone. When this excessive pulling occurs, it causes the body to respond by depositing calcium in the injured area, resulting in the formation of the bone spur.

The Plantar fascia ligament is a fibrous band of connective tissue running between the heel bone and the ball of the foot. This structure maintains the arch of the foot and distributes weight along the foot as we walk. However, due to the stress that this ligament must endure, it can easily become damaged which commonly occurs along with heel spurs.

A Heel Spur's Partner in Crime

Since a heel spur and plantar fasciitis often occur together, it's important to understand both conditions. When the plantar fascia ligament becomes overstretched or overworked, tears can develop and the tissue becomes inflamed. This condition is usually characterized by a dull, aching pain. Like with heel spurs, pain is most noticeable when walking after periods of rest, such as after getting out of bed in the morning. Although pain diminishes as you walk, prolonged walking or activity may cause pain to return.

Symptoms of heel spurs as well as plantar fasciitis vary. As mentioned, some people who have a heel spur do not have a symptom. Recovery time for those who do have symptoms of pain varies. Relief could be achieved within a few weeks, a few months, or up to a year or more. Most sufferers, however, find relief under one year.

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Treating a Heel Spur

In some cases, heel spur pain may not be resolved through conservative treatment options. In those cases, cortisone injections may be used to reduce inflammation associated with the condition, helping to reduce discomfort. However, treatment options such as these must be discussed in detail with your physician, since more serious forms of treatment could yield negative side effects, such as atrophy of the heel's fat pad, or the rupture of the plantar fascia ligament. Although such side effects are rare, they are potential problems that could deliver added heel pain.

There are heel spur prevention methods available in order to prevent the formation of a heel spur. First, proper footwear is imperative. Old shoes or those that do not fit properly fail to absorb pressure and provide the necessary support. Shoes should provide ample cushioning through the heel and the ball of the foot, while also supporting the arch. Wearing an orthotic shoe insert is one of the best ways to stretch the plantar fascia and prevent conditions such as heel spurs. Stretching the foot and calf is also helpful in preventing damage. Athletes in particular should make sure to stretch prior to any physical activity. Stretching helps prevent heel spurs by making tissue stronger as well as more flexible. In addition, easing into a new or increasingly difficult routine should be done to help avoid strain on the heel and surrounding tissue.

Only in rare cases do the symptoms of heel spurs fail to be resolved through conservative treatment. Conservative treatment, although not 100% effective, is successful in most cases and should be given ample time to work. In many cases, conservative methods should be utilized as long as a year depending on the rate at which your body responds to the treatment. When treatment is unsuccessful, surgery may be considered. A common surgical procedure for this condition is plantar fascia release surgery. In this procedure, the tension of the plantar fascia ligament is released, lessening tension in the heel and helping to prevent damage.

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