A heel spur is a hooked bony growth protruding from the calcaneus or heel bone. It often occurs alongside plantar fasciitis, and as such the two conditions are often confused, however they are not the same.
One frequent cause of heel spurs is an abnormal motion and mal-alignment of the foot called pronation. For the foot to function properly, a certain degree of pronation is required. This motion is defined as an inward action of the foot, with dropping of the inside arch as one plants the heel and advances the weight distribution to the toes during walking. When foot pronation becomes extreme from the foot turning in and dropping beyond the normal limit, a condition known as excessive pronation creates a mechanical problem in the foot. In some cases the sole or bottom of the foot flattens and becomes unstable because of this excess pronation, especially during critical times of walking and athletic activities. The portion of the plantar fascia attached into the heel bone or calcaneous begins to stretch and pull away from the heel bone.
An individual with the lower legs turning inward, a condition called genu valgus or "knock knees," can have a tendency toward excessive pronation. This can lead to a fallen arch and problems with the plantar fascia and heel spurs. Women tend to suffer from this condition more than men. Heel spurs can also result from an abnormally high arch. Other factors leading to heel spurs include a sudden increase in daily activities, an increase in weight, or a thinner cushion on the bottom of the heel due to old age. A significant increase in training intensity or duration may cause inflammation of the plantar fascia. High-heeled shoes, improperly fitted shoes, and shoes that are too flexible in the middle of the arch or bend before the toe joints will cause problems with the plantar fascia and possibly lead to heel spurs.
Most patients who are suffering with heel spurs can see them with an X-ray scan. They are normally hooked and extend into the heel. Some people who have heel spur may not even have noticeable symptoms, although could still be able to see a spur in an X-ray scan.
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.
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.
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.