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Heel spurs and their treatment

Every day, our feet support for hours the weight of our bodies and of everything that we carry. We use them to walk, run, stand, jump and turn around once and again. They are constantly under certain amounts of stress that depend on our activities and lifestyle. This stress, just as any stress, can get to be too much for them to take. In these cases, the feet become damaged and develop a series of conditions that will be briefly discussed in this article.

Plantar Fasciitis

Our feet are very complex structures meant to support the weight of our entire body as well as provide us with the mobility to walk around carrying that weight. Not many people know that our feet are made of several bones, and also other structures like tendons, muscles and connecting tissues. Our feet rest on a series of layers that connect our heels with the base of our toes, under the skin of our soles. This series of layers is called plantar fascia

Any time our feet are exposed to mechanical stress, in example when we carry a lot of weight on them or bring them under shocking pressure like a run on a hard surface or a hard fall, some microlesions occur within their tissues, especially the plantar fascia, which is the part that is most exposed to these forces. When these microlesions accumulate because of repetitive strain on the plantar fascia, our soles can hurt, especially when we step on the ground. Due to the risk factors, people who expose their feet to constant stress are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis. Some examples are: obese or overweight people, athletes, people with too high or too low arches of the feet, and people who spend many hours a day standing on hard surfaces.

When plantar fasciitis becomes cronical, it can cause a heel spur.

Calcaneal spur

A calcaneal spur or heel spur happens when feet are exposed to persistent mechanical stress. As a self-protective reaction, the bone of the heel starts covering itself with calcium. If this situation extends for too long, the layers of calcium overlap and form a spur on the bottom or back of the heel. This spur is painless itself, but it damages the soft tissue around it causes the heel to hurt. The pain is stronger and sharper after a long period of rest, such as sleeping or sitting, therefore it is common to feel pain in the morning that eventually eases itself after a while of walking.

Calcaneal spur rarely has any symptoms besides its characterisical pain, so it is necesary for a proper diagnosis to get an x-ray of our feet. A radiography will clearly show a sharp spur coming out of the heel bones. Most cases of heel spur can be successfully treated, but even without treatment they can relive by themselves in about one year.

Treatment 

Altough contemporary medicine has suggested pharmacological treatment for plantar fasciitis and calcaneal spur, indicating that antiinflamatories can ease the pain by relieving the inflammation that causes it, doctors state that the best treatment yet proved is based in conservative medicine (a.k.a. "grandma’s medicine").

Pain can be easily treated by improving circulation in the feet. Alternate hot and cold water will increase the blood flow. Even some natural remedies such as essential oils and arnica, dissolved in warm water, can make the pain go away quite rapidly. 

Given that the cause of pain is the excessive stress on the sole, a great idea that has proved itself of use is to strenghten the muscles of your feet and lower legs. This way, the weight support will be better and more distributed, and therefore the bone and plantar fascia will not be that much strained. A good stretching program combined with excersises is the best way to treat heel spurs. There are many excersises that can be of use. The ideal routine implies a combination of the following: stretching routines for sole and toes; toe strenght excersises using rubber bands or squeezing objects; picking objects with your toes; massaging your sole by walking on irregular surfaces such as sand or rolling a small ball between your sole and the floor.

Another way of relieving the mechanical stress is using orthotic insoles that are soft and often texturized. Softness cushions the sole and absorbs the mechanical stress of weight and impact. The texture operates as a stimulator of the whole surface of the sole. Aditionally, if the condition is totally or partially caused by flat feet, insoles that make the arch of the feet rest in the proper position can provide aditional relief.

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