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.
Heel Spurs develop when the plantar fascia is excessively and repetitively pulled away from the heel bone. In many cases, a heel spur can develop along with plantar fasciitis, but can also occur by itself. Heel spurs often develop in middle-aged patients, but can also occur in younger people as well. Athletes are especially prone to heel spur due to the regular stress on their heels.
Symptoms may be similar to those of plantar fasciitis and include pain and tenderness at the base of the heel, pain on weight bearing and in severe cases difficulty walking. The main diagnosis of a heel spur is made by X-ray where a bony growth on the heel can be seen. A heel spur can occur without any symptoms at all and the athlete would never know they have the bony growth on the heel. Likewise, Plantar fasciitis can occur without the bone growth present.
Your doctor will discuss your medical history and will examine your foot and heel for any deformities and inflammation (swelling, redness, heat, pain). He/she will analyze your flexibility, stability, and gait (the way you walk). Occasionally an x-ray or blood tests (to rule out diseases or infections) may be requested.
Non Surgical Treatment
The heel pain associated with heel spurs and plantar fasciitis may not respond well to rest. If you walk after a night's sleep, the pain may feel worse as the plantar fascia suddenly elongates, which stretches and pulls on the heel. The pain often decreases the more you walk. But you may feel a recurrence of pain after either prolonged rest or extensive walking. If you have heel pain that persists for more than one month, consult a health care provider. He or she may recommend conservative treatments such as stretching exercises, shoe recommendations, taping or strapping to rest stressed muscles and tendons, shoe inserts or orthotic devices, physical therapy. Heel pain may respond to treatment with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve). In many cases, a functional orthotic device can correct the causes of heel and arch pain such as biomechanical imbalances. In some cases, injection with a corticosteroid may be done to relieve inflammation in the area.
Usually, heel spurs are curable with conservative treatment. If not, heel spurs are curable with surgery, although there is the possibility of them growing back. About 10% of those who continue to see a physician for plantar fascitis have it for more than a year. If there is limited success after approximately one year of conservative treatment, patients are often advised to have surgery.
If you have not yet developed this condition, you can take steps to protect yourself from it. Most importantly, make it a rule to wear properly fitted footwear. Avoid shoes that have become worn down in the heel, and don't choose shoes that cause you to walk in an abnormal fashion. Maintaining a healthy weight will ensure that undue pressure isn't being put on the ligaments, tendons and bones of your feet. If your job requires a great deal of time on your feet, or if you exercise regularly, be sure to balance periods of activity with periods of rest for your feet.