Overview

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac. There are hundreds of deep and superficial bursae throughout the human body. They are typically located near major joints. Bursae are situated between bone and soft tissues like tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin. They serve as a cushioning pad to absorb shock. The fluid within the sac is secreted to assist with friction-free movement as the soft tissues move across a bony area.

Causes

Occasionally the bursal sac can become inflamed and painful. Pain to the region is worse typically with initial weight bearing activity such as rising from bed in the morning. Swelling and warmth to the region are common. Clinical examination shows pain to palpation at the retrocalcaneus at a level just before the Achilles tendon. Increase pressure and friction of the Achilles tendon across the retrocalcaneal region is the cause of this bursitis. A high arch, tight Achilles tendon or bone spur appear to be some of the main causes of this problem. With a high arch the back portion of the calcaneus abnormally projects into the Achilles tendon region.

Symptoms

Medical experts strongly recommend that you consult a doctor if you have any of the symptoms below. Disabling joint pain that prevents you from doing your daily activities. Pain that lasts for more than two weeks. Excessive swelling, redness, bruising or a rash around the painful joint. Sharp or shooting pain, especially when you exercise or do something more strenuous. A fever. Any of the above could be a sign of infection, a condition such as arthritis or a more serious injury such as a tendon tear that may require medical attention.

Diagnosis

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

There are a variety of treatments for bursitis of the heel. Bursitis on the bottom of your heel (which is called infracalcaneal bursitis) is common in heels with thinning fat pads. Gel heel cushions or custom made orthotics (that have a horse-shoe cut and extra foam in the heel) can be lifesavers in reducing the pain. For bursitis of the posterior heel (retrocalcaneal bursitis), try to avoid going barefoot and to reduce the stress on the Achilles tendon by not over flexing your heel, the tighter your Achilles becomes, the more you compress the bursa sacs of the posterior heel. Heel lifts can help this, or wearing shoes with elevated heels (note that this method is not sanctioning high heels, as high heels can provide little comfort or support and usually are tight in the areas where your bursitis is most inflamed). Products such as AirHeel made by Aircast can help massage the bottom and back of the heel, helping to decrease pain.

Prevention

Continue to wear your orthotics for work and exercise to provide stability and restore foot function. Select suitable shoes for work and physical activity that provide stability for the heel. Regular stretching of the calf muscle can prevent heel bursitis. Do not suddenly increase activity amount without appropriate conditioning.

Advertisements