A bursa is a small sack of fluid that sits between a tendon and a bone to help the tendon move smoothly over the bone. The retrocalcaneal bursa in situated in the feet between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus or heel bone. With repeated trauma the bursa can become inflamed. Achilles tendon bursitis is often mistaken for achilles tendinitis. It is possible for the athlete to have both achilles tendinitis and achilles tendon bursitis at the same time which is known as Haglund’s syndrome.
The most common cause for bursitis in the heel is overuse. If you repeatedly use your ankle, the bursa becomes irritated, causing swelling and inflammation. This is usually seen in individuals who do too much walking or running. The risk for developing this condition worsens if you suddenly start an intensive workout routine without conditioning your body to become used to the intensity.
What are the symptoms of heel bursitis? pain, swelling, tenderness, redness, and/or warmth at either the bottom of the heel or top of the heel, depending on the degree of swelling, pain may be a dull ache or substantial enough to cause limping, running, jumping, and walking activities may exacerbate pain, wearing poorly fitting, tight, or high-heeled shoes may exacerbate pain.
Obtaining a detailed history from the patient is important in diagnosing calcaneal bursitis. The following complaints (which the physician should ask about during the subjective examination) are commonly reported by patients.
Other inquiries that the physician should make include the following. The clinician should ask about the patient’s customary footwear (whether, for example, it includes high-heeled shoes or tight-fitting athletic shoes). The patient should be asked specifically about any recent change in footwear, such as whether he/she is wearing new athletic shoes or whether the patient has made a transition from flat shoes to high heels or vice versa. Individuals who have been accustomed to wearing high-heeled shoes on a long-term basis may find that switching to flat shoes causes increased stretch and irritation of the Achilles tendon and the associated bursae. The specifics of a patient’s activity level should be ascertained, including how far the patient runs and, in particular, whether the individual is running with greater intensity than before or has increased the distance being run. The history of any known or suspected underlying rheumatologic conditions, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or seronegative spondyloarthropathies, should be obtained.
Non Surgical Treatment
Caregivers may give you special shoe inserts with a cutout around the tender area. You may also be told to wear shoes with a reinforced heel counter. This will give better heel control. You may need other shoe inserts (wedges) to raise your heel so it does not press against the back of the shoe. You may also wear shoes that are open in the back, such as sandals that have no strap across the heel. You may use ibuprofen (eye-bu-PROH-fen) and acetaminophen (a-seet-a-MIN-oh-fen) medicine for your pain. These may be bought over-the-counter at drug or grocery stores. Do not take ibuprofen if you are allergic to aspirin. You may be given shots of medicine called steroids (STER-oids) to decrease inflammation. Caregivers may add local anesthesia (an-es-THEE-zah) to the steroids. This medicine helps decrease bursitis pain. Because these shots decrease swelling and pain, you may feel like your ankle is healed and that you can return to heavy exercise. It is important to not exercise until your caregiver says it is OK. You could make the bursitis worse if you exercise too soon. You may need surgery to remove the bursa or part of your ankle bone. Surgery is usually not necessary unless the bursitis is very bad and does not heal with other treatments. Your caregiver may want you to go to physical (FIZ-i-kal) therapy (THER-ah-pee). Physical therapists may use ultrasound to increase blood flow to the injured area. Caregivers may use massage to stretch the tissue and bring heat to the injury to increase blood flow. These and other treatments may help the bursitis heal faster. Exercises to stretch your Achilles tendon and make it stronger will be started after the bursitis has healed. You may gradually increase the amount of weight you put on your foot when caregivers say it is OK. You may be told to stop exercising if you feel any pain.
Surgery to remove the damaged bursa may be performed in extreme cases. If the bursitis is caused by an infection, then additional treatment is needed. Septic bursitis is caused by the presence of a pus-forming organism, usually staphylococcus aureus. This is confirmed by examining a sample of the fluid in the bursa and requires treatment with antibiotics taken by mouth, injected into a muscle or into a vein (intravenously). The bursa will also need to be drained by needle two or three times over the first week of treatment. When a patient has such a serious infection, there may be underlying causes. There could be undiscovered diabetes, or an inefficient immune system caused by human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV).
Do not run if you have pain. When you begin running again, avoid running fast uphill or downhill until the tendon is fully healed. Start exercising when caregivers say that it is OK. Slowly start exercise such as bicycling when caregivers say it is OK. When doing exercises that put pressure on the ankles, such as running or walking, exercise on flat, even surfaces. Avoid doing these exercises on very hard surfaces such as asphalt or concrete. Stretch before exercising. Always warm up your muscles and stretch gently before exercising. Do cool down exercises when you are finished. This will loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your heel. Wear heel protectors. Use soft foam or felt heel pads (wedges or cups) to help decrease pressure against your heel. Ask your caregiver which heel pads are the best for you. Wear well-fitting shoes. Buy running or exercise shoes that support and fit your feet well. Do not wear low-cut shoes. Talk to your caregiver or go to a special exercise footwear store to get well-fitting athletic shoes. Ask your caregiver if you should wear specially-made shoe inserts called orthotics (or-THOT-iks). Orthotics can line up your feet in your shoes to help you run, walk and exercise correctly.