Each week, OMRF Chief Medical Officer Dr. Judith James opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
One of my coworkers at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is quite a fitness enthusiast. Over the years, he’s gone deep with many different pursuits, including HIIT training, mud runs and obstacle races, and even competitive stair climbing.
Unfortunately, injuries have plagued him, and he was recently diagnosed with an Achilles heel spur. He previously had one on his other foot, and as with his earlier spur, he is planning for surgery to remove it.
What causes these spurs? And is surgery the only way to treat them?
Dr. James Prescribes
Spurs are bony growths that can develop in various parts of the body. Even within the heel, they can form at different places, and they commonly do so due to stress and strain placed on your foot ligaments and tendons, often by repetitive overuse or intense training like our OMRF coworker probably engages in.
Over time, your body responds to that stress by building extra bone tissue. This excess tissue becomes a heel spur. If that spur forms in a certain place on the heel, it can rub against the Achilles tendon.
The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel, and you use it pretty much every time you move your legs: walking, running, jumping and climbing stairs. So, if that tendon grows inflamed, exercise – and everyday life – can become painful.
Doctors use a range of approaches to treat the resulting condition, which is known as Achilles tendinopathy. Common nonsurgical treatments include rest, anti-inflammatory medications, ice, shoe inserts, and various exercises and stretches.
Often, these treatments will provide relief, but it can take months for the pain to subside.
If pain persists, doctors may recommend surgery. That typically involves removing the bone spurs, as well as any damaged tendon tissue. The surgeon then reattaches the remaining tendon to the heel bone if needed.
As guided by their care team, patients can often begin walking in a removable boot or cast after a few weeks with physical therapy to follow. Studies report that up to 75% of patients are ultimately able to return to pre-surgical activity levels.
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