A bone spur (osteophyte) is a bony growth that forms along the edge of normal bone in response to wear and tear, most frequently in the joints. A heel spur is a bone spur of the heel bone, which causes heel pain by rubbing on the achilles tendon or other soft tissues.
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.
The pain caused by a calcaneal spur is not the result of the pressure of weight on the point of the spur, but results from inflammation around the tendons where they attach to the heel bone. You might expect the pain to increase as you walk on the spur, but actually it decreases. The pain is most severe when you start to walk after a rest. The nerves and capillaries adapt themselves to the situation as you walk. When you rest, the nerves and capillaries rest, also. Then, as you begin to move about again, extreme demands are made on the blood vessels and nerves, which will cause pain until they again adjust to the spur. If excessive strain has been placed on the foot the day before, the pain may also be greater. A sudden strain, as might be produced by leaping or jumping, can also increase the pain. The pain might be localized at first, but continued walking and standing will soon cause the entire heel to become tender and painful.
A thorough history and physical exam is always necessary for the proper diagnosis of heel spurs and other foot conditions. X rays of the heel area are helpful, as excess bone production will be visible.
Non Surgical Treatment
Elevation of the affected foot and leg at rest may diminish the pain. Applying gentle heat to the painful area may ease the pain by dilating local blood vessels. One also can protect the heel by placing a foam rubber pad in the heel of the shoe. A pad about one-half inch thick will raise the heel, shift the weight of the body forward, and protect the irritated muscles attached to the heel bone. The same effect can be achieved by using adhesive tape to turn the foot inward. Additional treatment may consist of a number of physical therapies, such as diathermy, ultrasound waves and whirlpool baths.
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.