Bone spurs usually form around joints that have arthritis, in the vertebrae of the spine, and on the heel. When they form on the heel, they may form on the back of the heel but usually form on the bottom of the heel. Of course, this is where all of the body weight comes down with each step. Spurs on the bottom of the heel are usually most painful the first few steps out of bed each morning. The pain may lessen somewhat after walking for a few minutes, but may be intense again after sitting for a half hour or so, such as after lunch. The pain usually gets worse throughout the day as you are up on your feet more. Often the pain feels like a nail being driven through the heel into the ankle and leg.
Heel spurs develop in some people that have a condition called plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the plantar fascia. Heel spurs form when the plantar fascia separates from the calcaneus. An abnormal bone growth, a hook-like spur, forms from calcium deposits that grow at the site of inflammation. Heel spurs are more common in middle-aged adults and people that have had plantar fasciitis for a long time. People with flat feet or high arches are vulnerable to heel spurs. Women who wear high-heeled shoes are more susceptible, as well.
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.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are diagnosed based on the history of pain and tenderness localized to these areas. They are specifically identified when there is point tenderness at the bottom of the heel, which makes it difficult to walk barefoot on tile or wood floors. X-ray examination of the foot is used to identify the bony prominence (spur) of the heel bone (calcaneus).
Non Surgical Treatment
Initially, treatment usually consists of a combination of ice therapy, stretching exercises to improve flexibility (especially in the mornings), anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. Most patients will also need custom-molded orthotics to help control the motion in the foot and arch, which takes the strain off the plantar fascia. If the pain continues, a cortisone injection may be used to calm the severe swelling and pain. There may the need for a night splint to maintain a stretch in the plantar fascia throughout the night.
Sometimes bone spurs can be surgically removed or an operation to loosen the fascia, called a plantar fascia release can be performed. This surgery is about 80 percent effective in the small group of individuals who do not have relief with conservative treatment, but symptoms may return if preventative measures (wearing proper footwear, shoe inserts, stretching, etc) are not maintained.