Heel spurs are a common medical complaint technically know as plantar fasciitis. This is a condition in which the patient experiences a burning sensation in their heels when walking and this can have several causes. The pain can be quite serious and in some cases even debilitating, so it is important to understand the causes and to look into treatment if you or a loved one are suffering from the problem. As this is a condition that affects an impressive 10% of Americans at some point in their lifetime, this is relatively likely to be relevant.
Understanding Heel Spur
Plantar fasciitis affects the plantar fascia. This is a thick and fibrous stretch of connective tissue going from the bottom surface of the calcaneus (the technical term for the heel bone) and extending to the sole of the foot along the bottom. In plantar fasciitis the connective tissue has experienced cumulative microtears over a duration of time that have accumulated to cause more serious damage. The symptoms are then pain, particularly when standing or walking, difficulty in bending the foot and some swelling. Generally symptoms are worst at the start of the day.
These microtears are a result of exertion and this is regularly caused by too much weight bearing – which in turn is generally caused by obesity and a high BMI. At the same time this can be worsened by wearing poor footwear. Particularly, very high heels may cause the problem, but it can also be affected by shoes that don’t provide enough support such as flat sandals.
Understanding these causes can right away show you how to avoid causing the problem. If you are overweight then this will be a risk factor so it is of course advisable to shed excess weight. Likewise you should wear supportive shoes with a padded insole and slight heel, and should avoid spending too much time on your feet. Take time to rest at the end of the day and to ‘put your feet up’.
You should also make sure to practice walking correctly and if you have an unusual gait or stride then this can increase your chances of getting heel spur. You can do this by seeing a specialist, or by getting specially made shoes. Doing foot exercises might also be preventative, as they can help you to develop the muscles in your feet that will encourage you to walk correctly and that will help to protect your tendons and ligaments.
If you already suffer from heel spur then the good news is that there are many easy treatment options available as well as home remedies. Following are a few things for you to try.
Exercise combined with an improved diet can aid weight loss which in turn will mean that your feet are forced to bear less weight. The slight problem of course is that it can be quite hard to exercise when your feet are hurting so much whenever you put your weight on them. Fortunately there are solutions and these involve doing exercise that doesn’t require weight bearing. Swimming is one great option that will help greatly and not require much use of your heels, while another option is resistance exercises – such as weight lifting. You can do this on resistance machines or benches such as the bench press and this will mean that you don’t have to be standing up but can rather sit or lie down. Weight lifting will help you to burn calories just like running or cycling and particularly if you do a high number of repetitions on a low weight setting. Likewise though you can also benefit from having the muscle in the first place – as your body burns calories simply in order to maintain muscle mass.
Orthotics include things like foot supports and these include special shoes and insoles. These can be prescribed or bought off the shelf and they are supported by a body of research. Generally they have been found to be effective in 68% of cases and as they are non-invasive and relatively cheap this makes them a very popular form of treatment.
Massaging your own feet can help to provide temporary relief from the swelling and from the pain. For more effective treatment getting physiotherapy can also help to address the symptoms and cause. This will include exercises to do at home that will involve stretching the calf and the plantar fascia and this can help to alleviate the pain for 2-4 months. You can also address pain in the short term by stretching, and as pain is worst when the patients get out of bed, they are often encouraged to stretch the plantar fascia and calf muscle before getting up.
Corticosteroid injections are used in order to reduce swelling and this can have temporary or sometimes permanent effects. However it can be painful in itself, and if it is used repeatedly can result in the rupture of the plantar fascia that has other long term health implications.
Ultrasound therapy uses vibrations caused by sounds of a high frequency in order to stimulate blood flow and this has found to be successful in providing some relief. Ultrasound has also been used to improve the effectiveness of corticosteroid injections.
In case other forms of treatment prove ineffective, surgery is a last port of call that can be effective. However this carries several risks as does any surgery – including nerve injury, rupture, infection and more. This will also not necessarily address the underlying cause. Often surgery involves ‘plantar fascia release’ which essentially provides more space for the plantar fascia so that the swelling causes less discomfort.