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.
Feet are extremely resilient and are designed to stand up to the pressures of day-to-day living. In some cases, though, foot structures may break down when subjected to chronic stress associated with long periods of weight-bearing activity on concrete, asphalt, or other hard surfaces (especially when footwear does not allow for proper weight distribution). Foot problems, including infracalcaneal bursitis, are often made worse by poorly designed footwear, and pressure, impact, and shear forces can damage the feet over time. Bursal sacs are intended to minimize this damage, but sometimes the bursa itself becomes inflamed. A rapid increase in physical activity levels or thinning of the heel?s protective fat pad are factors that may contribute to infracalcaneal bursitis. Other possible causes of infracalcaneal bursitis include blunt force trauma. Arthritic conditions. Acute or chronic infection. The following factors may increase a person?s risk of bursitis, including infracalcaneal bursitis. Poor conditioning. Exposure to cold weather. Participating in contact sports. Having a previous history of bursitis in any joint. Heel striking when running, especially in conventional running shoes with heel elevation.
Pain or tenderness at the back of the heel around the Achilles region. Increased pain during activities with strong, repetitive calf contractions, walking (uphill), stair climbing, running, jumping. Pain may be worse with rest after activity (that night or the next morning) or at the beginning of the excercise. Pain when wearing shoes and the heel is getting rubbed. Bump forming on the back of the heel. Limping. Stiffness. Decreased range of motion. Redness and warmth (if the bursa gets infected).
The diagnosis is based on the symptoms and an examination. For anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, doctors use x-rays to rule out a fracture of the heel bone or damage to the heel bone caused by rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory arthritis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Many times, Achilles tendon bursitis can be treated with home care. However, if self-care remedies do not work, your doctor may need to administer additional treatments. Home care. The most important thing you can do to help your healing is to refrain from activities that could further aggravate the bursitis. Typical home-care treatments for Achilles tendon bursitis include Anti-inflammatory medication. Take over-the-counter pain medication, like aspirin or ibuprofen, to reduce pain and swelling. Heel wedges. An over-the-counter or custom heel wedge can be placed in your shoe to minimize stress in the Achilles tendon. Ice. Apply ice or other cold therapy to your sore heel several times a day. Rest. Limit your activity on the injured leg, avoid putting pressure on it whenever possible. Also, elevate your leg during non-use to help reduce the swelling. The above remedies may be used on their own or in combination with others on the list. Physician-administered treatments. If the above self-care remedies are not effective, you should visit your doctor for additional treatment. Possible Achilles tendon bursitis treatments your doctor may administer include immobilization. If the bursitis is combined with Achilles tendonitis, your doctor may place a temporary cast on the ankle to prevent movement and allow it to heal. Physical therapy. Exercises may be used to improve the ankle's strength and flexibility. Steroids. Injection of steroids into the retrocalcaneal bursa (not the Achilles tendon) may be necessary. Surgery. In very rare circumstances, surgery may be needed to remove the retrocalcaneal bursa, however, this is typically a last resort.
Bursectomy is a surgical procedure used to remove an inflamed or infected bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between tissues of the body. Because retrocalcaneal bursitis can cause chronic inflammation, pain and discomfort, bursectomy may be used as a treatment for the condition when it is persistent and cannot be relived with other treatments. During this procedure, a surgeon makes small incisions so that a camera may be inserted into the joint. This camera is called an arthroscope. Another small incision is made so that surgical instruments can be inserted to remove the inflamed bursa.