Whenever tissues rub against one another, a bursa forms to allow for smooth gliding. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac and occurs normally throughout the body. Only a few cell layers thick, a bursa is filled with a lubricating fluid. However, when irritated, a bursa can become markedly thickened and painful. This is often referred to as bursitis. The retrocalcaneal bursa is positioned to allow the Achilles tendon to glide over the back part (posterior aspect) of the heel bone. When this bone becomes enlarged, inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa occurs. This inflammation results in exquisite tenderness along the posterior aspect of the heel.
Bursitis is caused by overuse or excessive pressure on the joint, injury, infection, or an underlying condition, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, pseudogout, or ankylosing spondylitis. When bursitis is caused by an underlying condition, the condition must be treated along with the bursitis. When bursitis is caused by infection, called septic bursitis, medical treatment and antibiotics are necessary.
Posterior heel pain is the chief complaint in individuals with calcaneal bursitis. Patients may report limping caused by the posterior heel pain. Some individuals may also report an obvious swelling (eg, a pump bump, a term that presumably comes from the swelling’s association with high-heeled shoes or pumps). The condition may be unilateral or bilateral. Symptoms are often worse when the patient first begins an activity after rest.
Your doctor will take a history to find out if you have the symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis. By examining your ankle, he or she can generally tell the location of the pain. The physician will look for tenderness and redness in the back of the heel. The pain may be worse when the doctor bends the ankle upward (dorsiflex), as this may tighten the achilles tendon over the inflamed bursa. Alternatively, the pain may be worse with toe rise, as this puts stress on the attachment of the achilles tendon to the heel bone. Imaging studies such as X-ray and MRI are not usually necessary at first. If initial treatment fails to improve the symptoms, these studies may be obtained. MRI may show inflammation.
Non Surgical Treatment
With anterior and posterior Achilles tendon bursitis, applying warm or cool compresses to the area and using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can temporarily relieve the pain and inflammation, as can injections of a corticosteroid/anesthetic mixture into the inflamed bursa. The doctor is careful not to inject the mixture into the tendon. After this treatment, the person should rest. When these treatments are not effective, part of the heel bone may need to be surgically removed.
Surgery. Though rare, particularly challenging cases of retrocalcaneal bursitis might warrant a bursectomy, in which the troublesome bursa is removed from the back of the ankle. Surgery can be effective, but operating on this boney area can cause complications, such as trouble with skin healing at the incision site. In addition to removing the bursa, a doctor may use the surgery to treat another condition associated with the retrocalcaneal bursitis. For example, a surgeon may remove a sliver of bone from the back of the heel to alter foot mechanics and reduce future friction. Any bone spurs located where the Achilles attaches to the heel may also be removed. Regardless of the conservative treatment that is provided, it is important to wait until all pain and swelling around the back of the heel is gone before resuming activities. This may take several weeks. Once symptoms are gone, a patient may make a gradual return to his or her activity level before their bursitis symptoms began. Returning to activities that cause friction or stress on the bursa before it is healed will likely cause bursitis symptoms to flare up again.
You can avoid the situation all together if you stop activity as soon as you see, and feel, the signs. Many runners attempt to push through pain, but ignoring symptoms only leads to more problems. It?s better to take some time off right away than to end up taking far more time off later. Runners aren?t the only ones at risk. The condition can happen to any type of athlete of any age. For all you women out there who love to wear high-heels-you?re at a greater risk as well. Plus, anyone whose shoes are too tight can end up with calcaneal bursitis, so make sure your footwear fits. If the outside of your heel and ankle hurts, calcaneal bursitis could be to blame. Get it checked out.