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. Treatment involves rest, reducing symptoms with ice or cold therapy, stretching and correcting any biomechanical problems.
Heel Spur Symptoms
Symptoms may be very similar to those of plantar fasciitis and can include pain and tenderness at the base of the heel, pain on weight bearing and in severe cases, difficulty walking. Pain may be worse first thing in the morning only to ease off later as the foot warms up, only to return again later with increased weight bearing running or walking. The main diagnosis of a heel spur is made by X-ray where a bony growth on the heel can be seen.
A heel spur can occur without any symptoms at all and the athlete would never know they have the bony growth on the heel unless it was spotted on an Xray. Likewise, plantar fasciitis can occur without bone growth present. Common causes of this bone spur in the heel are repetitive trauma to the base of the heel, obesity, poor walking / running technique, poorly fitting shoes, or hereditary conditions.
Heel Spur Treatment
The most important part of treatment is to rest. Do not undertake activities which hurt the foot or aggravate symptoms as this will only cause painful symptoms to persist.
Apply a cold therapy wrap regularly for 10 minutes at a time every hour initially to reduce pain and inflammation of the surrounding tissues. As symptoms subside, the frequency of application can reduce to 2 or 3 times per day.
Taping the foot is an excellent way of providing support and protection to the heel. The plantar fasciitis taping technique can often relieve symptoms instantly. All that is needed is a simple roll of 2.5cm zinc oxide tape.
Anti-Inflammatory medicine (e.g. ibuprofen) may be prescribed by a doctor but always check with a medical professional first. Taking some medications such as ibuprofen should not be done if the patient has asthma.
Shoe inserts can help to take the pressure off of the heel spur and reduce pain. If these treatments do not significantly ease the symptoms then surgery may be an option.
Exercises and stretches to keep the foot and ankle strong and mobile are important as long as pain allows. Stretching the plantar fascia is important, especially if symptoms are worse in the morning. A plantar fasciitis night splint is excellent for stretching and preventing the plantar fascia tightening up overnight.
Ultimately, getting rid of long-term pain means stretching the plantar fascia so it does not put additional strain on the insertion to the heel. Below we outline a few simple foot stretching exercises which can be done pain-free and in conjunction with other treatment methods.
Stretching the Plantar Fascia
One way the plantar fascia can be stretched is by pulling up on the foot and toes with the hands. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. Repeat this stretch 5 times and aim to stretch 3 times a day. It takes discipline to stretch regularly until the pain goes but it is important. Do this stretch as well as calf muscles stretching exercises with the leg straight.
Plantar Fasciitis Night Splint
The night splint is normally worn overnight, although it can be applied for shorter periods during the day. It works by preventing the tissues from tightening up overnight. Some people may find them uncomfortable to wear, but if you can gradually increase the wearing time each night then the results can be worth it. Wearing a night splint is more effective then plantar fasciitis stretches alone.
Arch Support Taping