A Bursa is a small fluid filled sac that forms in areas of extra rubbing and friction. They are usually present with a bone deformity as the bone is pressed against other structures like a tendon or against the ground as you walk. The bursa acts as a shock absorber and is a way for your body to protect you from damage. When this bursa or sac like structure becomes swollen and inflammed it is called bursitis. The bursa may be anatomical meaning normally present, or it may be adventitious meaning, only present because of a problem. Many bursa are present and do not cause pain.
A bursa acts as a cushion and lubricant between tendons or muscles sliding over bone. There are bursas around most large joints in the body, including the ankle. The retrocalcaneal bursa is located in the back of the ankle by the heel. It is where the large Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Repeated or too much use of the ankle can cause this bursa to become irritated and inflamed. Possible causes are too much walking, running, or jumping. This condition is usually linked to Achilles tendinitis. Sometimes retrocalcaneal bursitis may be mistaken for Achilles tendinitis. Risks for this condition include starting an aggressive workout schedule, or suddenly increasing activity level without the right conditioning.
Symptoms include pain at the back of the heel, especially when running uphill or on soft surfaces. There will be tenderness and swelling at the back of the heel which may make it difficult to wear certain shoes. When pressing in with the fingers both sides are the back of the heel a spongy resistance may be felt.
Obtaining a detailed history from the patient is important in diagnosing calcaneal bursitis. The following complaints (which the physician should ask about during the subjective examination) are commonly reported by patients.
Other inquiries that the physician should make include the following. The clinician should ask about the patient's customary footwear (whether, for example, it includes high-heeled shoes or tight-fitting athletic shoes). The patient should be asked specifically about any recent change in footwear, such as whether he/she is wearing new athletic shoes or whether the patient has made a transition from flat shoes to high heels or vice versa. Individuals who have been accustomed to wearing high-heeled shoes on a long-term basis may find that switching to flat shoes causes increased stretch and irritation of the Achilles tendon and the associated bursae. The specifics of a patient's activity level should be ascertained, including how far the patient runs and, in particular, whether the individual is running with greater intensity than before or has increased the distance being run. The history of any known or suspected underlying rheumatologic conditions, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or seronegative spondyloarthropathies, should be obtained.
Non Surgical Treatment
So what can you do to alleviate this type of pain in the foot? If the bursitis pain is occurring on the toes, bunion or back of the heel area the smart money would be on eliminating the shoes that seem to aggravate the condition. Eliminating these shoes may not in itself clear up the problem but you can be sure that if you continue to wear the offending shoes nothing you or your doctor do will permanently ?fix? the problem. A recurring theme that I use throughout this site that if you put an abnormally shaped foot in a dressy shoe it is literally the same as trying to put a square peg in a round hole, it will not fit. OK, so you threw away those dressy shoes and the foot still hurts, now what? Depending on the severity of the pain, over the counter anti-inflammatory medication may do the trick. The key here is to take the medication on an ongoing basis, according to the directions on the package to build up therapeutic blood levels. Assuming you can tolerate this type of medication, along with alternative treatments you can try). take the medication for 10-14 days. Stop if the symptoms have not dramatically improved. Icing the area during this period may also help reduce the symptoms.
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.
Once your pain and inflammation is gone, you can prevent retrocalcaneal bursitis deformity by wearing the best shoes for your foot type. You should high-heels and pumps if possible. Wear orthotics (custom arch supports) or over-the-counter orthotic devices. Perform frequent Achilles tendon stretching exercises to prevent it from becoming tight agian. Avoiding running uphill when training. Try to run on softer surfaces and avoid concrete.