A heel spur is an outgrowth of bone, known as a bone spur or osteophyte, on the heel of the foot. Bone spurs form as the body attempts to repair damage caused by constant physical irritation, pressure or stress, and may form in various regions of the body. They develop in the heel for a variety of reasons. In many cases, the long ligament that runs across the bottom of the foot, called the plantar fascia, gets pulled too tightly and an inflammation known as plantar fasciitis results. As the body tries to repair the damage, a heel spur may form.
Causes of Heel Spurs
Plantar fasciitis is the most common reason for a heel spur to develop, but there are many other possible contributing factors. Normal aging causes cartilage and ligaments to wear down and bones to rub together and the body may create a bone spur in response. Activities like dancing, running and jumping can exacerbate the irritation, as can being overweight or wearing ill-fitting or high-heeled shoes. Having flat feet, naturally tight calves or very high arches, or standing or walking for prolonged periods also puts individuals at greater risk for developing heel spurs.
Symptoms of Heel Spurs
A patient with heel spurs experiences sharp heel pain when weight is put on the affected foot. Pain may also be felt along the arch of the foot or on the back of the leg during walking. The pain is most intense when the patient stands after sitting or lying for an extended period. Severe pain upon arising after sleep is a frequent complaint. While it is the plantar fasciitis, not the heel spur, that is usually causing the pain, the heel spur, which can be seen on X-ray, demonstrates that the foot damage is of relatively long-standing.
Treatment of Heel Spurs
Treatments for plantar fasciitis and heel spurs begin with rest, stretching exercises and anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, to alleviate pain. Corticosteroid injections at the site may be administered as well. Certain lifestyle adjustments, such as weight loss and wearing well-fitted shoes and appropriate orthotics, may help to keep the condition from becoming chronic. When these conservative methods do not provide relief, extracorporeal shock wave therapy at the site, or night splints to stretch the calf and arch during sleep, may be considered. In severe cases heel spurs may necessitate surgery.