In the foot we have a unique situation in that between the shoes that we wear and the ground that we walk on various parts of the foot are constantly being ?micro? traumatized meaning that every time we take a step we do a small amount of damage to a particular part of the foot and eventually that part of the foot begins to hurt. The body?s response to this micro-trauma is to create a bursal sac to initially protect the area but if micro-traumatized enough the bursal sac itself becomes inflamed and we have a bursitis.
Although rare, bursitis also may be caused by an infection, known as septic bursitis. This is a serious medical condition that requires antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent its spread to other points in the body or the bloodstream. Septic bursitis may cause the back of the ankle to become red or hot. The person may also get the chills or fever and may feel sick and tired. Typically this type of bursitis would be suspected if there has been any history of an open wound in the area, such as a blister.
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.
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
Your health care provider may recommend the following treatments. Avoid activities that cause pain. Ice the heel several times a day. Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (for example, ibuprofen). Try over-the-counter or custom heel wedges to help decrease the stress on the heel. Try ultrasound treatment during physical therapy to reduce inflammation. Use physical therapy to improve flexibility and strength around the ankle, which can help the bursitis improve and prevent it from coming back. If these treatments don't work, your health care provider may inject a small amount of steroids into the bursa. After the injection, you should avoid stretching the tendon too much because it can break open (rupture). If the condition is connected with Achilles tendinitis, casting the ankle for several weeks to keep it from moving can be effective. Very rarely, surgery may be needed to remove the inflamed bursa.
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.