Retrocalcaneal bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) at the back of the heel bone (calcaneus). The retrocalcaneal bursa is located between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone and is designed to reduce friction between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone. During contraction of the calf muscle, tension is generated through the Achilles tendon and it rubs against the retrocalcaneal bursa. When there is excessive friction due to repetitive rubbing of the tendon against the bursa or high impact force translating through the Achilles tendon, irritation and inflammation of the bursa may occur. The inflammation can also be aggravated by pressure, such as when athletes wear tight-fitting shoes. This condition is often mistaken for Achilles tendinitis but it can also occur in conjunction with Achilles tendinitis.
Bursitis is caused by overuse or excessive pressure on the joint, injury, infection, or an underlying condition, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, pseudogout, or ankylosing spondylitis. When bursitis is caused by an underlying condition, the condition must be treated along with the bursitis. When bursitis is caused by infection, called septic bursitis, medical treatment and antibiotics are necessary.
Some of the symptoms of bursitis in the heel, or retrocalcaneal bursitis, are as described below. Severe pain in the heel area of the foot, sometimes radiating to the ankle, associated with physical activities like walking, jogging and even on physical contact to the area. The physical signs of heel bursitis, which are noticeable in the heel area, are reddish discoloration of the skin that is warm to touch.
The doctor will discuss your symptoms and visually assess the bones and soft tissue in your foot. If a soft tissue injury is suspected, an MRI will likely be done to view where and how much the damage is in your ankle. An x-ray may be recommended to rule out a bone spur or other foreign body as the cause of your ankle pain. As the subcutaneous bursa is close to the surface of the skin, it is more susceptible to septic, or infectious, bursitis caused by a cut or scrape at the back of the heel. Septic bursitis required antibiotics to get rid of the infection. Your doctor will be able to determine whether there is an infection or not by drawing a small sample of the bursa fluid with a needle.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your GP may prescribe a short course of anti-inflammatory painkillers to reduce and control the painful inflammation that occurs and antibiotics in cases of septic bursitis. Applying a covered ice pack to the area after the initial injury may also significantly hasten the healing process by reducing the pain and swelling. Make sure the ice pack is covered to prevent any ice burn and for best results use the icepack regularly for 10-15 minutes with intervals of 30 minutes. Where possible it is advisable to avoid all aggravating movements and postures, however complete rest is not as this can lead to weakness and further shortening of the muscle. Massage and manipulative therapies can help loosen the surrounding muscles and tendons of the affected joint, reducing the pressure over the bursa and allowing it to heal faster. If the bursitis is chronic and not responding to treatment then your GP may refer you for a corticosteroid injection which will reduce the inflammation levels which will in turn reduce the pain levels experienced. Corticosteroid injections can have varied results. Surgery is a rare option when it comes to bursitis but occasionally it may be necessary for extremely chronic cases or to drain an infected bursa.
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.
Protect that part of the body that may be most vulnerable, If you have to kneel a lot, get some knee pads. Elbow braces can protect tennis and golf players. If you are an athlete or avid walker, invest in some good walking or running shoes. When doing repetitive tasks have breaks. Apart from taking regular breaks, try varying your movements so that you are using different parts of your body. Warm up before exercise. Before any type of vigorous exercise you should warm up for at least 5 to 10 minutes. The warm up could include walking at a good speed, slow jogging, or a cycling machine. Strong muscles add extra protection to the area. If you strengthen the muscles in the area where you had bursitis (after you are better), especially the area around the joint, you will have extra protection from injury. Make sure you do this well after your bursitis has gone completely.