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 swelling is the result of the blockage of blood, tissue fluids and circulation in the heel because their normal movement has been disrupted by the force of the injury. Just like cars back up behind a traffic jam, causing congestion, exhaust and overheating, blood and fluids back up behind the injured heel, causing pain, inflammation, lumps and swelling.
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.
On physical examination, patients have tenderness at the site of the inflamed bursa. If the bursa is superficial, physical examination findings are significant for localized tenderness, warmth, edema, and erythema of the skin. Reduced active range of motion with preserved passive range of motion is suggestive of bursitis, but the differential diagnosis includes tendinitis and muscle injury. A decrease in both active and passive range of motion is more suggestive of other musculoskeletal disorders. In patients with chronic bursitis, the affected limb may show disuse atrophy and weakness. Tendons may also be weakened and tender.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment consists of anti-inflammatory therapy with the use of ice, short term non steroidal therapy including ibuprofen and naproxen and selective use of cortisone injections. Cortisone injections have been shown to be a highly effective anti-inflammatory measure for relieving foot and ankle pain. Care must always be taken by the physician to insure that the injection is administered into the bursal sac and not the Achilles tendon which can cause tendon injury. Treatment also consists of the use of heel lifts or the temporary use of a shoe with a low heel. The heel lift decreases the mechanical load on the Achilles tendon. Gentle stretching of the Achilles tendon, the possible use of a splint that is worn at night as well as physical therapy as directed by your physician can be employed. Temporary activity limitations for fitness must be incorporated into the treatment plan. Any weight bearing activity for exercise that actively lifts your heel off of the ground including running, walking stair stepper will interfere with effective conservative care. Low impact activity including biking and pool tend to be safe exercises during your recovery.
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.
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.