Retrocalcaneal bursitis is the painful inflammation and swelling of the retrocalcaneal bursa that is situated between the calcaneus (heel bone) and the Achilles tendon. A bursa is a small fluid filled sac that forms around joints in areas where there is a lot of friction between muscles, tendons and outcrops of bone. The bursae position themselves in between the tendon or muscle and the bone, buffering any friction from movement. To picture a bursa imagine it as a very small water filled balloon that sits in places where things rub against each other, such as in between a tendon and a bone, to provide a soft smooth cushion for the tendon to pass over painlessly. The covering of the bursa also acts as a lubricant and aids the tendon?s movement. It is estimated that there is over 150 bursae in your body which protect the joint and tendons from wear. They are all very small and unnoticeable until they become swollen and painful with bursitis.
The retrocalcaneal bursa can become inflamed as the result of another condition, such as damage to the Achilles tendon, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and pseudogout. In these instances, the treatment for bursitis must accompany treatment for the underlying condition. Septic retrocalcaneal bursitis, which is caused by an infection, is uncommon. Infection can reach the bursa through a cut, puncture, a blister, or even an insect bite. It is possible to have septic bursitis without an obvious opening. In these cases the superficial wound may have healed quickly, but still allowed bacteria into the bursa.
Pain at the back of the heel, especially with jumping, hopping, tip-toeing, walking or running uphill or on soft surfaces. If tendonitis is also present, the pain can radiate away from the bursa. Direct pressure on the bursa will exacerbate the pain and should be avoided if possible. Tenderness and swelling which might make it difficult to wear certain shoes on the feet. As the bursa becomes more inflamed you will experience swelling and warmth. In severe cases, the bursa will appear as a bump, called a “pump bump”, and is usually red, and extremely tender. Swelling can cause difficulties moving as the range of motion in the ankle can be affected. Limping due to the pain may occur. If you press on both sides of the inflamed heel, there may be a firm spongy feeling. Weakness in the tendons and muscles surrounding the bursa can develop as the pain worsens and the inflammation in the area spreads. Possibly a fever if you are suffering from septic bursitis (You will need to see a doctor for medication to get rid of the infection). Pain at the back of the heel makes it difficult to continue wearing shoes, especially high heels with straps or shoes that don’t fit properly.
Diagnosis of heel bursitis can be made by your health practitioner and is based on the following. Assessing the location of the pain by palpating the back of the heel. Assessment of any inflammation at the back of the heel. Assessment of biomechanics and foot function. Ultrasound or MRI can reveal inflammation of the retro calcaneal bursa.
Non Surgical Treatment
Gradually progressive stretching of the Achilles tendon may help to relieve impingement on the subtendinous calcaneal bursa. Stretching of the Achilles tendon can be performed by having the patient place the affected foot flat on the floor and lean forward toward the wall until a gentle stretch is felt in the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. The stretch is maintained for 20-60 seconds and then is relaxed. Achilles stretch 1. The patient stands with the affected foot flat on the floor and leans forward toward the wall until a gentle stretch is felt in the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. The stretch is maintained for 20-60 seconds and then is relaxed. Achilles stretch 2. This stretch, which is somewhat more advanced than that shown in Images 1-2, isolates the Achilles tendon. It is held for at least 20-30 seconds and then is relaxed. To maximize the benefit of the stretching program, the patient should repeat the exercise for multiple stretches per set, multiple times per day. Ballistic (ie, abrupt, jerking) stretches should be avoided in order to prevent clinical exacerbation. The patient should be instructed to ice the posterior heel and ankle in order to reduce inflammation and pain. Icing can be performed for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day, during the acute period, which may last for several days. Some clinicians also advocate the use of contrast baths, ultrasound or phonophoresis, iontophoresis, or electrical stimulation for treatment of calcaneal bursitis. If the patient’s activity level needs to be decreased as a result of this condition, alternative means of maintaining strength and cardiovascular fitness (eg, swimming, water aerobics) should be suggested.
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.