Overuse Injuries: Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spurs

The common heel spur is an ailment affecting people from a wide range of ages and fitness levels. However, the cause of this injury is usually based upon the aggravation of Plantar Fasciitis. Though the two injuries are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference. While a heel spur is a condition in which a portion of bone irritates the fascia, the fascia can be inflamed in other manners. However, both conditions are often referred to as bone spurs and that is the term we will use here. By understanding Plantar Fascitiis and how it develops it is possible to take precautionary measures and prevent the onset or further aggravation of this debilitating injury.

Understanding the ailment depends on understanding the anatomy of the area that becomes inflamed. The fascia is a fibrous tissue similar to the ligament that stretches from the back of the heel all the way to the front of the foot. The tissue mainly provides support for the arch and gives cushioning to the bone and nerves in the feet while walking or running. So as you can see it plays a vital role, but can easily become aggravated given the weight of each step and the repetitive nature of walking and running.

What happens is that somehow an inflammation or slight tear occurs somewhere along the fascia and at that point there is an onset of pain, which is usually felt on or around the heel of the foot. It usually starts out as a light stabbing, or pinching pain. Though the problem may seem no less severe than any other type of muscle or tissue injury, this one is notoriously hard to heal. However, before steps toward healing occur it is good to know how it develops and what could have contributed toward it in the first place.
Certain people are much more susceptible to heel spurs than the rest. The “at risk” group includes any of the following:

1. The overweight, whom put more pressure and tension on their feet than the average person. An overweight person is also much less likely to perform regular impacts through their feet, so when they have to do an activity that is a higher intensity and/or a much longer duration, they are more likely to be injured due to the high cumulative effect of the repetitive loads.

2. The flatfooted (over-pronation) because when they walk the arch collapses stretching the fascia to the maximum. Everyone is born flat-footed but most people grow out of it so it’s worth getting checked.

3. Those with unusually high arches who also stretch the fascia to a larger degree than normal. This can also be an issue if you’ve been wearing non-supportive shoes for a long period of time.

4. Those who spend an extended amount of time in footwear that doesn’t fit properly, no matter whether you’ve got regular feet, flat feet, or high arches.

5. Those who increase their activity level suddenly and all at once.
Those in the risks groups above can take certain precautions to prevent the onset or relapse of the problem which are to always wear properly fitting shoes which support the arches, to always stretch and regularly exercise the feet to increase flexibility and to gradually increase any activity level over an extended period of time rather than all at once.
Those already suffering from the disorder are advised to try the following treatment plan:

1. Stretching of the foot area and the calves on a regular basis. This will help to build flexibility and decrease the chances of re-injury while providing some pain relief.

2. Taping of the arch so that it is supported can help tremendously in the more acute cases where even walking is painful. If you’re unsure of how to do this visit your local podiatrist.

3. Icing always helps, especially if done before and after the activity that normally causes pain.

4. Rest and time off of the feet are the main necessities for healing heel spurs. The tissue needs time to heal and the only way that can happen is when you take time from walking and give your feet time to repair.

5. Heel inserts help most suffering from heel spurs but the amount of relief depends on the insert and the location of the injury. It may help to try another brand with a different design if the first one doesn’t help.

6. Acupuncture seems to work well with some people so should be a consideration. make sure you find an accredited practitioner.

7. Correct program design is also a big factor. It’s important to always gradually build up to more strenuous exercise whilst remembering to stretch both before and after. Following these recommendations can do much to prevent not only heel spurs but other types of injuries as well.

8. Orthotics can be made to fit your foot and once the design is set can provide life-long relief from the injury. Find a podiatrist in your area and ask them whether this could help you.

9. The last option for persistent and severe problems is surgery. There are two types of surgeries that can relieve the problem: surgical removal of a portion of the fascia or removal of an actual bone spur that is irritating the tissue. Consult with a physician about which option is recommended for you.

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