Patients and doctors often confuse the terms heel spur and plantar fasciitis. While these two diagnoses are related, they are not the same. Plantar fasciitis refers to the inflammation of the plantar fascia--the tissue that forms the arch of the foot. A heel spur is a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone (calcaneus) and is associated with plantar fasciitis. About 70 percent of patients with plantar fasciitis have a heel spur that can be seen on an X-ray. However, many patients without symptoms of pain can have a heel spur. The exact relationship between plantar fasciitis and heel spurs is not entirely understood. Heel spurs are common in patients who have a history of foot pain caused by plantar fasciitis.
Over-pronation (flat feet) is a common cause of heel spurs, but people with unusually high arches (pes cavus) can also develop heel spurs. Women have a significantly higher incidence of heel spurs due to the types of footwear often worn on a regular basis.
You may or may not experience any symptoms with your heel spurs. It is normally the irritation and inflammation felt in the tissues around your heel spur that cause discomfort. Heel pain is one of the first things you may notice, especially when pushing off the ball of your foot (stretches the plantar fascia). The pain can get worse over time and tends to be stronger in the morning, subsiding throughout the day; although it does return with increased activity. A sharp, poking pain in your heel that feels like you're stepping on a stone can often be felt while standing or walking. You will sometimes be able to feel a bump on the bottom of your heel, and occasionally bruising may appear.
Because the diagnosis of heel spurs can be confused with tarsal tunnel syndrome (as described earlier), most surgeons advocate performing a tarsal tunnel release (or at least a partial tarsal tunnel release) along with the plantar fascia release. This surgery is about 80percent successful in relieving pain in the small group of patients who do not improve with conservative treatments.
Non Surgical Treatment
Heel spurs and plantar fascitis (inflammation of the plantar fascia) are usually controlled with conservative treatment. Early intervention includes stretching the calf muscles while avoiding reinjury to the plantar fascia. Decreasing or changing activities, losing excess weight, and improving the fit of shoes are all important measures to decrease foot pain. Modification of footwear includes well-padded shoes with a raised heel and better arch support. Shoe inserts recommended by a healthcare professional are often very helpful when used with exercises to increase the strength of the foot muscles and arch. The inserts prevent excessive pronation and continued tearing of the plantar fascia.
Most studies indicate that 95% of those afflicted with heel spurs are able to relieve their heel pain with nonsurgical treatments. If you are one of the few people whose symptoms don?t improve with other treatments, your doctor may recommend plantar fascia release surgery. Plantar fascia release involves cutting part of the plantar fascia ligament in order to release the tension and relieve the inflammation of the ligament. Sometimes the bone spur is also removed, if there is a large spur (remember that the bone spur is rarely a cause of pain. Overall, the success rate of surgical release is 70 to 90 percent in patients with heel spurs. One should always be sure to understand all the risks associated with any surgery they are considering.
You can help prevent heel spur symptoms from returning by wearing the proper shoes. Customized orthotics and insoles can help relieve pressure. It is important to perform your exercises to help keep your foot stretched and relaxed.