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.
It is widely accepted now that the presence of this bony growth is not the cause of heel pain, but rather an effect of an underlying biomechanical foot problem where the soft tissue structures that are attached to the heel bone are pulling excessively on that area. At some point down the track, heel pain may develop, but the bony heel spur is not the cause of the heel pain.
Symptoms of heel spur syndrome often include pain early in the morning or after rest, as you take the first few steps. It may also include severe pain after standing or walking long hours, especially on hard cement floors. Usually more pain exist while wearing a very flat soled shoe. A higher heel may actually relieve the pain as an arch is created. The pain is usually sharp, but can also be a dull ache. The pain may only be at the bottom of the heel, or may also travel along the arch of the foot.
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by your physiotherapist or sports doctor based on your symptoms, history and clinical examination. After confirming your heel spur or plantar fasciitis they will investigate WHY you are likely to be predisposed to heel spurs and develop a treatment plan to decrease your chance of future bouts. X-rays will show calcification or bone within the plantar fascia or at its insertion into the calcaneus. This is known as a calcaneal or heel spur. Ultrasound scans and MRI are used to identify any plantar fasciitis tears, inflammation or calcification. Pathology tests may identify spondyloarthritis, which can cause symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatments for bone spurs and plantar fasciitis include Stretching the calf muscles several times daily is critical in providing tension relief for the plantar fascia. Some physicians may recommend using a step to stretch, while others may encourage yoga or pushing against a wall to stretch. Icing after activity. A frozen tennis ball can provide specific relief. Rolling the tennis ball under the arch of the foot after exercise can lessen pain in the area. Taping is also recommended at times. Several manufacturers of sports tape have plantar fascia specific lines. Orthotics are a good idea for those on their feet during the day. Orthotics can provide cushioning and relief. Cortisone shots in the fascia can provide temporary anti-inflammatory relief. Losing weight is perhaps the most effective method of improving heel and foot pain. Those who are overweight are far more likely to report these syndromes.
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.