The heel bone (calcaneus) is the largest bone of the foot. It takes the maximum weight of the body as we stand and move around. A thick pad of fat, known as the heel pad, provides cushioning under the heel, as it bears the impact of movements including walking, running, and jogging. Other than this, the heel bone transfers the force of the Achilles tendon to other parts of the foot and leg. In certain conditions, a bony outgrowth may develop from the heel bone. This is known as the heel spur. This outgrowth is nothing but calcium deposit.
Although plantar fasciitis and heel spur are often used interchangeably, it is important to understand that they are not the same. Plantar fascia is a thick connective tissue that runs along the underside of the foot―from the heel bone to the metatarsal bone. Plantar fasciitis refers to inflammation of this tissue. A heel spur, on the other hand, is a bony outgrowth from the heel bone due to the stretching of the plantar fascia.
Heel spurs develop most commonly among those who tend to overstress or overuse the plantar fascia ligament. Athletes who are physically very active are the ones who are highly prone to developing this condition. Overweight people and women who frequently wear high-heeled or ill-fitting shoes, are also susceptible to experiencing this problem. Middle-aged people, individuals with back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, weak calf muscles, and poor blood circulation, are also at risk of developing heel spurs.
The main symptom is pain in the heel of the foot that may also spread to the surrounding region. This pain is most commonly felt during the morning when one gets up from sleep. What's interesting is that the pain is not due to the formation of the spur, but due to the pressure it puts on the soft tissue around the heel.
One may also experience pain when one starts to walk after an extended period of rest. Although the pain is likely to increase with walking, the irony is that the more you walk, the more it subsides. This is because the nerves and capillaries go at rest when the person is not walking around. Once the person begins to move again, the discomfort caused to the nerves and capillaries is felt in the form of heel pain. Also, as one tries to modify his/her walking posture to avoid discomfort, it could cause pain in the hips and back as well. With continued walking, the soft tissues around the heel adjust with the bony outgrowth, and the heel pain subsides.
Taking Rest: As the pain is caused due to the heel spur pressing into the surrounding tissues that get inflamed, restricting heavy activity that may cause stress on the foot is advisable. This means that if you go out for jogging, stop doing so, till the condition improves. Avoid long periods of standing or walking around as well.
Cold Compress: Applying ice packs helps in alleviating the pain.
Exercises: There are specific exercises and stretches that comprise the nonsurgical treatment for this problem. Towel pull, cross-leg stretch, and stair stretch, to name a few.
Surgery: Only 10 percent of the total cases require surgical treatment. In this method, the spur is surgically removed, or the plantar fascia causing strain on the heel bone is cut or detached.
Medicines: Certain anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers may also be prescribed.
Wearing comfortable and well-fitting shoes can help minimize the occurrence of heel spurs to a great extent. Also, if one engages in activities that cause excess strain on the foot, providing adequate rest to the foot is important. Strengthening the foot with proper exercise is another way of minimizing injury. Shoe inserts or orthotic devices are also highly effective in managing the painful symptoms.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is meant for informational purposes only, and should not be considered as a replacement for expert medical advice.