Retrocalcaneal bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) at the back of the heel bone (calcaneus). The retrocalcaneal bursa is located between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone and is designed to reduce friction between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone. During contraction of the calf muscle, tension is generated through the Achilles tendon and it rubs against the retrocalcaneal bursa. When there is excessive friction due to repetitive rubbing of the tendon against the bursa or high impact force translating through the Achilles tendon, irritation and inflammation of the bursa may occur. The inflammation can also be aggravated by pressure, such as when athletes wear tight-fitting shoes. This condition is often mistaken for Achilles tendinitis but it can also occur in conjunction with Achilles tendinitis.
Inflammation of the calcaneal bursae is most commonly caused by repetitive overuse and cumulative trauma, as seen in runners wearing tight-fitting shoes. Such bursitis may also be associated with conditions such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and seronegative spondyloarthropathies. In some cases, subtendinous calcaneal bursitis is caused by bursal impingement between the Achilles tendon and an excessively prominent posterior superior aspect of a calcaneus that has been affected by Haglund deformity. With Haglund disease, impingement occurs during ankle dorsiflexion.
When the bursa becomes inflamed after an injury, symptoms usually develop suddenly. When the bursa develops without an injury, symptoms may develop gradually. With both posterior and anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, symptoms usually include swelling and warmth at the back of the heel. A minimally red, swollen, tender spot develops on the back of the heel. When the inflamed bursa enlarges, it appears as a red lump under the skin of the heel and causes pain at and above the heel. If posterior Achilles tendon bursitis becomes chronic, the swelling may become hard, fluid-filled, and red or flesh-colored.
Carrying out a diagnosis for bursitis is fairly straightforward. The doctor will examine the affected area and ask the patient some questions about his/her recent activities. If the patient has a high temperature the physician may take a small sample of fluid from a bursa near the affected body part. The sample will be tested for bacteria, and perhaps also crystals. If the patient does not get better after treatment the doctor may carry out further tests so that he/she can eliminate the possibility that the symptoms might not be due to something else. These may include an x-ray, to make sure no bones are broken or fractured. Blood tests, to check for rheumatoid arthritis. A CT scan or MRI scan to see if there is a torn tendon.
Non Surgical Treatment
Orthotics may assist heel bursitis by providing stability to the heel, reduce any foot functioning abnormalities and provide extra support for the feet. The orthotic achieves this by maintaining correct foot posture, therefore facilitating normal functioning of the Achilles tendon. Icing the back of the heel post activity for temporary relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can reduce inflammation of the bursa. Stretching of the calf muscle may reduce the pulling on the heel by the Achilles tendon. Shoes that have an elevated heel may reduce pulling on the heel from the Achilles tendon. Resting the painful heel may reduce inflammation and pain. Surgical removal of the painful bursa is a last resort treatment when all other treatments have failed.
Surgery is rarely need to treat most of these conditions. A patient with a soft tissue rheumatic syndrome may need surgery, however, if problems persist and other treatment methods do not help symptoms.
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.