There is a thick walled fluid filled bursa between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneal bone. The color Doppler images show hypervascularity of the bursal wall. A minimal amount of fluid in the retrocalcaneal bursa can often be found. A retrocalcaneal bursitis is caused by friction of the Achilles tendon over the upper part of the calcaneal bone. It is often an overuse injury found in athletes.
Improper foot wear, tight shoes or shoes that do not fit properly can cause extra pressure and friction on the back of the heel. Overtime, this pressure causes irritation of the bursae that protects the Achilles tendon causing one or both to swell and become inflamed. Athletes who overtrain or runners that increase their distance to quickly are at greater risk of experiencing Achilles bursitis. With over use, the Achilles bursae and tendon can become irritated and inflamed leading to thickening of the bursae lining and wearing of the tendon. Fluid builds in the bursa when it becomes irritated causing swelling of the Achilles bursa and pain at the back of the heel.
The main symptom of heel bursitis is pain. You may experience pain in your heel when you walk or run. There may also be pain if the area is touched or if you stand on your tiptoes. In addition to pain, the area may appear red and warm, which are both signs of inflammation. Even if you have these symptoms, only a doctor can determine if you have bursitis of the heel. Your doctor will use these symptoms along with a general exam to determine if you are suffering from bursitis of the heel.
Careful examination by your physician or physiotherapist can determine if the inflammation is from the Achilles tendon or from the retrocalcaneal bursa. Tenderness due to insertional Achilles tendinitis is normally located slightly more distal where the tendon inserts into the back of the heel, whereas tenderness caused by the retrocalcaneal bursa is normally palpable at the sides of the distal Achilles tendon. Diagnosis can be confirmed with an ultrasound investigation, MRI or CT scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
Podiatric Care may include using anti-inflammatory oral medications or an injection of medication and local anesthetic to reduce the swelling in the bursa. An injection may be used for both diagnosis and for treatment. When you go to your doctor, x-rays are usually required to evaluate the structure of your foot and ankle to ensure no other problems exist in this area. They may advise you on different shoewear or prescribe a custom made orthotic to try and control the foot structure especially if you have excessive pronation. Sometimes patients are sent to Physical Therapy for treatment as well. To aid in relief of pressure points, some simple padding techniques can be utilized. Most all patients respond to these conservative measures once the area of irritation is 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.
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.