For some patients, these deposits don’t cause any discomfort. For many more, however, heel spurs can result in significant, even debilitating, pain. Left untreated, spurs in the heel can limit your activity significantly, with many patients unable to bear any weight on the affected foot.
Causes and Risks of Heel Spurs
Excessive stress or stretching on the plantar fascia (a thick, flat ligament that connects the heel bone to the toes) can cause small tears in the membrane covering the heel. As a result, calcium deposits can build up slowly over a period of months or years. When these deposits grow large enough, they press into the heel pad, causing pain and related symptoms.
Although bone spurs in the heel are more common in older patients, they can strike at any age.
This condition is common in runners and other athletes whose sports require jumping. Weightlifters and those who work on their feet extensively face increased risk, as do patients who are overweight or have collapsed arches. Gait abnormality can also cause this condition, due to the excessive pressure placed on the structures of the foot.
Inappropriate, excessively worn or poorly fitted footwear are other common contributors this condition.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Heel Spurs
Heel spur pain can be chronic or intermittent. For many patients, the pain is most intense first thing in the morning — many patients liken it to a sharp, stabbing sensation — but abates to a dull ache over the course of the day. If inflammation is present, the pain will become more pronounced when standing, walking or jogging.
If a confirmatory diagnosis has not yet been made but symptoms are present, this condition is referred to as heel spur syndrome.
To diagnose this condition, the doctor will take a detailed medical history and learn more about your pattern of activity. A manual examination of the affected foot will be performed to identify specific areas of pain. X-rays are often ordered to rule out other potential causes and identify complications. Ultrasound imaging may be used to look for any problems with the plantar fascia itself and to identify the extent of damage or scarring.
Heel Spur Treatment and Prevention
Conservative treatment is the preferred approach for addressing bone spurs in the heel. The RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression and elevation) and nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) are combined with stretching, physical therapy and strapping or taping the foot to support the muscles. Orthopedic shoe inserts are also highly effective for eliminating the pain and preventing recurrence.
If the problem persists, minimally invasive treatments such as guided injection therapy, including platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) and related regenerative medicine techniques, are highly effective for treating this condition.
If pain does not resolve with less-invasive treatment, however, heel spur surgery may be necessary to remove the bony growths. Fortunately, this is required for only a small percentage of patients today.
You can prevent this problem by wearing well-fitted shoes that are appropriate for your activities. Shoes wear out and break down more rapidly than most patients realize. If you are active, purchasing a new pair of high-quality shoes every six months — or sooner if they no longer provide adequate support — will prevent many common orthopedic problems of the foot and ankle.
Be sure to warm up and stretch before physical activities and avoid overdoing any one activity or sport.
If you are experiencing lower limb pain, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treating the feet and ankles can have you back on your feet in no time, enjoying the activities you love. Contact us today to schedule your appointment with Dr. Hunter for an evaluation of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis.