Retrocalcaneal bursitis is a condition characterized by tissue damage and inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa (a small fluid filled sac located at the back of the heel) causing pain in the heel region. A bursa is a thin fluid filled sac found in various places throughout the body. Bursae are designed to reduce friction between adjacent layers of tissue and are filled with lubricating fluid. They are typically located in regions of the body where tissue layers may rub against each other or against bony prominences The muscle group at the back of the lower leg is commonly called the calf. The calf comprises of 2 major muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) both of which insert into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. Between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone lies a bursa known as the retrocalcaneal bursa.
Repetitive, vigorous movement, strenuous and unaccustomed activities that put pressure on a joint, or a blow or other injury can bring on bursitis. The cause can vary depending on where the bursitis occurs. In the shoulder, for example, it can be brought on by excessive strain, such as from serving in tennis. Kneeling on a hard floor can cause bursitis of the knee, and similarly, repeatedly resting the elbow on a hard surface (such as a desk) can cause bursitis in that joint. Arthritis, gout, and certain infections can also contribute to the problem. Bursitis, in fact, may signal the onset of arthritis. While getting older isn't a cause of bursitis, older people, especially older athletes, are more likely to develop the condition.
Patients with this condition typically experience pain at the back of the ankle and heel where the Achilles tendon attaches into the heel bone. Pain is typically experienced during activities requiring strong or repetitive calf contractions (often involving end of range ankle movements) such as walking (especially uphill), going up and down stairs, running, jumping or hopping (especially whilst wearing excessively tight shoes). Often pain may be worse with rest after these activities (especially that night or the following morning). The pain associated with this condition may 'warm up' with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Other symptoms may include tenderness on firmly touching the affected bursa and swelling around the Achilles region.
When a patient has pain in a joint, a careful physical examination is needed to determine what type of movement is affected and if there is any swelling present. Bursitis will not show up on x-rays, although sometimes there are also calcium deposits in the joint that can be seen. Inserting a thin needle into the affected bursa and removing (aspirating) some of the synovial fluid for examination can confirm the diagnosis. In most cases, the fluid will not be clear. It can be tested for the presence of microorganisms, which would indicate an infection, and crystals, which could indicate gout. In instances where the diagnosis is difficult, a local anesthetic (a drug that numbs the area) is injected into the painful spot. If the discomfort stops temporarily, then bursitis is probably the correct diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
The most important part of treating bursitis is resting your Achilles tendon while the bursa heals. Resting your ankle as much as possible may decrease swelling and keep the bursitis from getting worse. When the pain decreases, begin normal, slow movements. Ice causes blood vessels to constrict (get small) which helps decrease inflammation (swelling, pain, and redness). Put crushed ice in a plastic bag or use a bag of frozen corn or peas. Cover it with a towel. Put this on your heel for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times each day. Do not sleep on the ice pack because you can get frostbite. After two or three days, you may try using heat to decrease pain and stiffness. Use a hot water bottle, heating pad, whirlpool or warm, moist compress. To make a compress, dip a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring out the extra water and put it on your heel for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times each day. Your caregiver may tell you to switch between treating your heel with ice packs and heat treatments. Follow the caregiver's directions carefully when doing these treatments.
Surgery is rarely need to treat most of these conditions. A patient with a soft tissue rheumatic syndrome may need surgery, however, if problems persist and other treatment methods do not help symptoms.
People can lower the risk of bursitis by gradually strengthening and stretching the muscles around the joints and taking regular breaks from repetitive motion that might irritate bursae. Prolonged time resting on the elbows or kneeling should be avoided, if it cannot be avoided, wearing cushioned elbow and knee pads can help protect the bursae. Comfortable, supportive, low-heeled shoes can help prevent bursitis in the foot.