There are over 150 bursae in the human body. Usually bursae are present from birth, but they may form in response to repeated pressure. Each sac contains a small amount of synovial fluid, a clear liquid that acts as a lubricant. Inflammation causes pain on movement. The most common site for bursitis to occur is the shoulder (subdeltoid), but it also is seen in the elbows (olecranon), hips (trochanteric), knees, heels (Achilles), and toes. The affected area may be referred to as “frozen,” because movement is so limited. In the knee there are four bursae, and all can become inflamed with overuse.
The calcaneal bursa can become inflamed in patients with heel spurs or in patients with poor-fitting shoes (eg, high heels). Inflammation can occur secondarily from Achilles tendinitis, especially in young athletes. Patients exhibit tenderness to palpation of the bursa anterior to the Achilles tendon on both the medial and lateral aspects. They have pain with movement, which is worsened with dorsiflexion.
In retrocalcaneal bursitis, pain at the back of the heel is the main complaint from patients. Pain may worsen when tip-toeing, running uphill, jumping or hopping. Often, those who are accustomed to wearing high-heeled shoes on a long-term basis may also complain of pain at the back of the heel when switching to flat shoes. This is because when in high-heeled shoes, the calf muscle and the Achilles tendon are in a shortened position. Switching to flat shoes would cause an increased stretch to the calf muscle and Achilles tendon, irritating the Achilles tendon and the retrocalcaneal bursa. Other symptoms may include redness and swelling at the back of the heel.
When you suspect you have retrocalcaneal bursitis, your foot doctor will begin by taking a complete history of the condition. A physical exam will also be performed. X-rays are usually taken on the first visit as well to determine the shape of the heel bone, joint alignment in the rearfoot, and to look for calcium deposits in the Achilles tendon. The history, exam and x-rays may sufficient for your foot surgeon to get an idea of the treatment that will be required. In some cases, it may be necessary to get an ultrasound or MRI to further evaluate the Achilles tendon or its associated bursa. While calcium deposits can show up on xray, the inflammation in the tendon and bursa will show up much better on ultrasound and MRI. The results of these tests can usually be explained on the first visit. You can then have a full understanding of how the problem started, what you can do to treat prevent it from getting worse/ You will also know which treatment will be most helpful in making your heel pain go away.
Non Surgical Treatment
Many cases of retrocalcaneal bursitis can be resolved with self-care that is focused on reducing inflammation and eliminating activities or positions that aggravate the bursa. Some cases, however, may become more serious and require more medical interventions. Rarely, surgery is needed. Following the R.I.C.E. formula, or Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, is often sufficient to treat aseptic bursitis. Rest. People with retrocalcaneal bursitis should avoid activities that irritate the bursa, such as jogging or excessive walking. Ice. Applying a cold compress to the back of the ankle for about 20 minutes two or three times a day may help alleviate symptoms and decrease swelling. Compression. An elastic medical bandage (e.g. Ace? bandage) wrapped around the affected heel and ankle can help control swelling. Elevating the affected heel. Sitting down with the leg elevated on a stool or lying down with the foot elevated on a pillow can help reduce blood flow to the area, thereby reducing inflammation.
Maintain proper form when exercising, as well as good flexibility and strength around the ankle to help prevent this condition. Proper stretching of the Achilles tendon helps prevent injury.