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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.
Diseases such as arthritis may lead to chronic inflammation in the tissue surrounding the heel and over time this can lead to the accumulation of calcium deposits. Ankylosing spondylitis, for example, is one particular form of arthritis that frequently develops along with heel spurs. This condition can damage bones all over the body and even lead to the fusion of spinal vertebrae.
Pain and discomfort associated with heel spurs does not occur from the spur itself. The bone growth itself has no feeling. However, as you move, this growth digs into sensitive nerves and tissue along the heel of the foot, resulting in severe pain. Pain can also be generated when pushing off with the toes while walking. Swelling along the heel is also common.
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
In some cases, heel spur pain may not be resolved through conservative treatment options. In those cases, cortisone injections may be used to reduce inflammation associated with the condition, helping to reduce discomfort. However, treatment options such as these must be discussed in detail with your physician, since more serious forms of treatment could yield negative side effects, such as atrophy of the heel’s fat pad, or the rupture of the plantar fascia ligament. Although such side effects are rare, they are potential problems that could deliver added heel pain.
When chronic heel pain fails to respond to conservative treatment, surgical treatment may be necessary. Heel surgery can provide relief of pain and restore mobility. The type of procedure used is based on examination and usually consists of releasing the excessive tightness of the plantar fascia, called a plantar fascia release. Depending on the presence of excess bony build up, the procedure may or may not include removal of heel spurs. Similar to other surgical interventions, there are various modifications and surgical enhancements regarding surgery of the heel.