29 Sep 2015
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.
The plantar fascia is a big strong ligament on the bottom of the foot, starting at the bottom of the heel bone and running into the ball of the foot. As the arch of the foot becomes weak, it sags slightly with each step and this causes the plantar fascia to tug and pull at the heel bone with each step. Over a period of time, a spur forms where this big strong ligament tugs and pulls at the heel bone. Soon, inflammation (swelling) starts around this spur and the pain becomes almost unbearable. (Sometimes heel spurs may be present without being painful if no inflammation is present).
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.
Diagnosis of a heel spur can be done with an x-ray, which will be able to reveal the bony spur. Normally, it occurs where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. When the plantar fascia ligament is pulled excessively it begins to pull away from the heel bone. When this excessive pulling occurs, it causes the body to respond by depositing calcium in the injured area, resulting in the formation of the bone spur. The Plantar fascia ligament is a fibrous band of connective tissue running between the heel bone and the ball of the foot. This structure maintains the arch of the foot and distributes weight along the foot as we walk. However, due to the stress that this ligament must endure, it can easily become damaged which commonly occurs along with heel spurs.
Non Surgical Treatment
Elevation of the affected foot and leg at rest may diminish the pain. Applying gentle heat to the painful area may ease the pain by dilating local blood vessels. One also can protect the heel by placing a foam rubber pad in the heel of the shoe. A pad about one-half inch thick will raise the heel, shift the weight of the body forward, and protect the irritated muscles attached to the heel bone. The same effect can be achieved by using adhesive tape to turn the foot inward. Additional treatment may consist of a number of physical therapies, such as diathermy, ultrasound waves and whirlpool baths.
Usually, heel spurs are curable with conservative treatment. If not, heel spurs are curable with surgery, although there is the possibility of them growing back. About 10% of those who continue to see a physician for plantar fascitis have it for more than a year. If there is limited success after approximately one year of conservative treatment, patients are often advised to have surgery.