Heel spurs are new bone that forms in response to stress to the heel. They serve to protect the bone against the development of microfractures. Spurs start out as cartilage and progress to solid bone. They are present in about 50 percent of the population, yet not everyone has heel pain- that's the first clue that heel spurs don't always cause heel pain.
Bone spurs can occur all over the body including the spine, shoulders, hands, hips and feet. The feet are a common place to find them. A heel spur happens when the body tries to mend itself. Building extra bone is one way your body tries to correct a weakness. Wearing shoes that are too tight in the heel can cause bone spurs. More women than men get heel spurs because of the kinds of shoes they wear. Athletes who stress their feet and legs routinely are also prone to heel spurs. Being overweight can also indirectly cause heel spurs by over-exerting the plantar fascia. Some heel spurs are caused by the aging process, in which the cartilage covering the ends of bones wears away. This process can lead to pain, swelling and spur formation. Stress-related problems with the plantar fascia frequently lead to heel spurs.
Most people think that a bone "spur" is sharp and produces pain by pressing on tissue, when in fact, these bony growths are usually smooth and flat. Although they rarely cause pain on their own, bone spurs in the feet can lead to callus formation as tissue builds up to provide added cushion over the area of stress. Over time, wear and tear on joints may cause these spurs to compress neighboring ligaments, tendons or nerves, thus injuring tissue and causing swelling, pain and tearing.
A thorough history and physical exam is always necessary for the proper diagnosis of heel spurs and other foot conditions. X rays of the heel area are helpful, as excess bone production will be visible.
Non Surgical Treatment
Only in rare cases do the symptoms of heel spurs fail to be resolved through conservative treatment. Conservative treatment, although not 100% effective, is successful in most cases and should be given ample time to work. In many cases, conservative methods should be utilized as long as a year depending on the rate at which your body responds to the treatment. When treatment is unsuccessful, surgery may be considered. A common surgical procedure for this condition is plantar fascia release surgery. In this procedure, the tension of the plantar fascia ligament is released, lessening tension in the heel and helping to prevent damage.
Surgery involves releasing a part of the plantar fascia from its insertion in the heel bone, as well as removing the spur. Many times during the procedure, pinched nerves (neuromas), adding to the pain, are found and removed. Often, an inflamed sac of fluid call an accessory or adventitious bursa is found under the heel spur, and it is removed as well. Postoperative recovery is usually a slipper cast and minimal weight bearing for a period of 3-4 weeks. On some occasions, a removable short-leg walking boot is used or a below knee cast applied.