Heel bursitis is specifically the inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa, located at the back of the heel, under the Achilles tendon. There are a handful of factors that put you at risk for developing heel bursitis. Long distance runners are prone to heel bursitis, due to repeated stress and pounding upon the heel joint. Engaging in activities such as running, bicycling, walking, jumping, and stair climbing for extended periods of time can overwork the heel joints and start to irritate the bursae. Suddenly changing to a high-intensity workout regime puts a lot of stress on the heel, making it vulnerable to injury. Hard blows/bumps to the heel can immediately damage the bursae, leading to swelling and inflammation. Training at high intensities without stretching and warming up can also contribute to the development of heel bursitis. Even improper footwear can be a big factor. Some other conditions can put you at risk as well, such as: tarsal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, plantar fasciitis, muscle weakness, joint stiffness, and heel spurs. It is very important to get a professional diagnosis if you are having heel pain because heel bursitis is often confused for Achilles tendonitis, and the proper treatments are very different. The pain could also be plantar fasciitis or general heel pain syndrome.
Occasionally the bursal sac can become inflamed and painful. Pain to the region is worse typically with initial weight bearing activity such as rising from bed in the morning. Swelling and warmth to the region are common. Clinical examination shows pain to palpation at the retrocalcaneus at a level just before the Achilles tendon. Increase pressure and friction of the Achilles tendon across the retrocalcaneal region is the cause of this bursitis. A high arch, tight Achilles tendon or bone spur appear to be some of the main causes of this problem. With a high arch the back portion of the calcaneus abnormally projects into the Achilles tendon region.
Your feet are extremely resilient and are designed to stand up to the pressures of day-to-day living. In some cases, though, foot structures may break down when subjected to chronic stress associated with prolonged periods of weight-bearing activity on concrete, asphalt, or other hard surfaces (especially when your footwear does not allow for appropriate weight distribution). Foot problems, including infracalcaneal bursitis, are often exacerbated by poorly designed footwear, and pressure, impact, and shear forces can damage your feet over time. Bursal sacs are intended to minimize this damage, but sometimes the bursa itself becomes inflamed.
The diagnosis is based on the symptoms and an examination. For anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, doctors use x-rays to rule out a fracture of the heel bone or damage to the heel bone caused by rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory arthritis.
Non Surgical Treatment
In addition to R.I.C.E., there are a number of other treatments to reduce swelling and any associated pain or discomfort due to heel bursitis. Orthotics or change of footwear. Wearing an orthotic device such as a heel insert can encourage better mechanics in the foot and reduce irritation of the retrocalcaneal bursa. Some people do not need special orthotics but simply need to stop wearing shoes with rigid heel and ankle construction and instead wear more supportive, comfortable shoes. Shoes with an "Achilles notch," a groove in the collar at the back of the shoe to protect the Achilles tendon, can be particularly helpful. (Almost all running shoes are designed with an Achilles notch.) Stretching and physical therapy. Stretching the Achilles tendon often helps alleviate pain. Once the pain is resolved it is important for the patient to continue a regular stretching program. Regular stretching reduces the chance of recurrence.
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.