Patients suffering from chronic bone heel spurs can get significant pain relief from radiation therapy, a common cancer treatment, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Saarland University Medical Center in Germany.
An estimated two million Americans suffer from plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot connecting the heel bone to the toes, which often results in painful heel spurs.
“Severe plantar fasciitis is a chronic health issue, and it can be extremely painful – many of these men and women cannot walk or stand for a longtime, and the pain may be even worse during the first minutes of rest after a walk,” says Marcus Niewald, MD, a radiation oncologist at Saarland University in a report published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology.
Of the 62 patients studied by researchers for a year, 29 received a standard dose of radiation therapy, compared to 33 who received a low dose. The therapy was external beam radiation, a local treatment during which a machine aims radiation at only a specific part of the body.
Researchers said pain relief was “highly significantly superior” for patients administered standard doses of radiation and up to 80 percent experienced complete pain relief.
The pain relief continued or even improved for most patients 48 weeks later.
“Radiation therapy has been used for its anti-inflammatory effect for more than 60 years,” says Niewald. “We are very extremely encouraged by the results of our research because evidence of improved quality of life for patients is clearly evident with the standard dose regimen.”
Researchers reported no “acute side effects or long term toxicity” from the radiation therapy.
Common causes of painful bone heel spurs, also known as “policeman’s heel,” include sudden weight gain or obesity, long distance running, foot deformities and wearing shoes with poor arch support. Traditional treatments have included ice, heat, steroids and pain relievers. Patients are often advised to wear arch supports.