The two most common causes of pain in the bottom of the heel, the arch, or both the heel and the arch, are heel spurs and plantar fasciitis. A Heel Spur is a piece of calcium or bone that sticks out from the bottom of the heel bone, and lies within the fibers of the plantar fascia. When walking, the spur digs into the plantar fascia and causes small micro-tears in the plantar fascia. This produces inflammation and pain in the heel, which at times may radiate into the arch.
The cause of heel spurs is excessive strain placed on the plantar fascia over a long period of time, as a result of different factors. These factors include incorrect gait, being overweight, ageing or being in a job that requires a lot of standing on hard floors. It is usually a combination of any of these factors that will bring on the development of heel spurs.
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.
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
Heel pain may be associated with a heel spur, however the heel pain is usually due to plantar fasciitis, rather than a heel spur, so treatment is usually directed at the plantar fasciitis itself. Treatment usually involves application of ice to reduce pain and inflammation, special stretching exercises, and pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory medicines. Night splints or orthotics may be recommended. It may help to avoid the activities that aggravate pain, such as long walks and running. Surgery is very rarely recommended and only after other measures fail.
Surgery involves releasing a part of the plantar fascia from its insertion in the heel bone, as well as removing the spur. Many times during the procedure, pinched nerves (neuromas), adding to the pain, are found and removed. Often, an inflamed sac of fluid call an accessory or adventitious bursa is found under the heel spur, and it is removed as well. Postoperative recovery is usually a slipper cast and minimal weight bearing for a period of 3-4 weeks. On some occasions, a removable short-leg walking boot is used or a below knee cast applied.