A common cause of heel pain is the heel spur, a bony growth on the underside of the heel bone. The spur, visible by X-ray, appears as a protrusion that can extend forward as much as half an inch. When there is no indication of bone enlargement, the condition is sometimes referred to as “heel spur syndrome.” Heel spurs result from strain on the muscles and ligaments of the foot, by stretching of the long band of tissue that connects the heel and the ball of the foot, and by repeated tearing away of the lining or membrane that covers the heel bone. These conditions may result from biomechanical imbalance, running or jogging, improperly fitted or excessively worn shoes, or obesity.
The calcaneal spur is seen most often in persons over the age of 40. The condition can also be associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, poor circulation of the blood and other degenerative diseases. Men and women are equally likely to have them.
Although it may take years to become a problem, once it appears, it may cause considerable suffering. Because of proximity to the tendons, the spur is a source of continuous painful aching. The sensation has been described as “a toothache in the foot.” When you place your weight on the heel, the pain can be sufficient to immobilize you.
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
The key is to identify what is causing excessive stretching of the plantar fascia. When the cause is over-pronation (flat feet), an orthotic with rearfoot posting and longitudinal arch support will help reduce the over-pronation and thus allow the condition to heal. Other common treatments for heel spurs include Stretching exercises. Losing weight. Wearing shoes that have a cushioned heel that absorbs shock. Elevating the heel with the use of a heel cradle, heel cup, or orthotics. For example, heel cradles and heel cups provide extra comfort and cushion to the heel, reducing the amount of shock and shear forces experienced from everyday activities.
Surgery, which is a more radical treatment, can be a permanent correction to remove the spur itself. If your doctor believes that surgery is indicated, he will recommend an operation – but only after establishing that less drastic methods of treatment are not successful.