Approximately 10 per cent of the population may have heel spurs without any heel pain. Whilst recent research has raised the question of whether or not heel spurs are the result of the body trying to increase its base of support, heel spurs are still considered to be the result from strain on the muscles of the foot (in particular the plantar fascia). This may result from a biomechanical imbalance, such as over pronation.
A major cause of heel spur pain comes from the development of new fibrous tissue around the bony spur, which acts as a cushion over the area of stress. As this tissue grows, a callus forms and takes up even more space than the heel spur, leading to less space for the thick surrounding network of tendons, nerves, ligaments and supporting tissue. These important structures in the foot have limited space because of calcium or tissue buildup, which leads to swelling and redness of the foot, and a deep throbbing pain worsened with exercise.
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 is made using a few different technologies. X-rays are often used first to ensure there is no fracture or tumor in the region. Then ultrasound is used to check the fascia itself to make sure there is no tear and check the level of scar tissue and damage. Neurosensory testing, a non-painful nerve test, can be used to make sure there is not a local nerve problem if the pain is thought to be nerve related. It is important to remember that one can have a very large heel spur and no plantar fasciitis issues or pain at all, or one can have a great deal of pain and virtually no spur at all.
Non Surgical Treatment
In extreme cases, a doctor may recommend surgery for the removal of heel spurs. Fortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule. Most cases can be resolved with a combination of icing, rest, foot stretches and supporting the foot with an orthodic shoe insert specifically designed for this condition. We recommend that you continue on to our article on Heel Spur Treatment to discover the best, speediest and most affordable methods of resolving this ailment without invasive medical procedures.
Surgery involves releasing a part of the plantar fascia from its insertion in the heel bone, as well as removing the spur. Many times during the procedure, pinched nerves (neuromas), adding to the pain, are found and removed. Often, an inflamed sac of fluid call an accessory or adventitious bursa is found under the heel spur, and it is removed as well. Postoperative recovery is usually a slipper cast and minimal weight bearing for a period of 3-4 weeks. On some occasions, a removable short-leg walking boot is used or a below knee cast applied.
If you have not yet developed this condition, you can take steps to protect yourself from it. Most importantly, make it a rule to wear properly fitted footwear. Avoid shoes that have become worn down in the heel, and don't choose shoes that cause you to walk in an abnormal fashion. Maintaining a healthy weight will ensure that undue pressure isn't being put on the ligaments, tendons and bones of your feet. If your job requires a great deal of time on your feet, or if you exercise regularly, be sure to balance periods of activity with periods of rest for your feet.