In your heel, there is a sac filled with fluid known as a bursa. It is located under your Achilles tendon at the back of your heel bone. Many of your large joints have a bursa around them. They provide cushioning and lubrication for the tendons, muscles and bone. Bursitis of the heel occurs when the bursa in your ankle becomes swollen.
There are several factors which can lead to a person developing retrocalcaneal bursitis. In athletes, especially runners, overtraining, sudden excessive increase in running mileage may lead to retrocalcaneal bursitis. Tight or ill-fitting shoes can be another causative factor as they can produce excessive pressure at the back of the heel due to restrictive heel counter. A person with an excessively prominent posterosuperior aspect of the heel bone (Haglund deformity) may also have a higher predisposition to retrocalcaneal bursitis. In such individuals, pain would be reproduced when the ankle goes into dorsiflexion.
Nagging ache and swelling in or around a joint. Painful and restricted movement in the affected joint. Pain radiating into the neck or arms when bursitis strikes the shoulder (the most common site). Fever, when associated with an infection.
During the physical examination of a patient with calcaneal bursitis, the physician should keep the following considerations in mind. Swelling and redness of the posterior heel (the pump bump) may be clearly apparent. The inflamed area, which may be slightly warm to the touch, is generally tender to palpation. Careful examination can help the clinician to distinguish whether the inflammation is posterior to the Achilles tendon (within the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa) or anterior to the tendon (within the subtendinous calcaneal bursa). Differentiating Achilles tendinitis/tendinosis from bursitis may be impossible. At times, the 2 conditions co-exist. Isolated subtendinous calcaneal bursitis is characterized by tenderness that is best isolated by palpating just anterior to the medial and lateral edges of the distal Achilles tendon. Conversely, insertional Achilles tendinitis is notable for tenderness that is located slightly more distally, where the Achilles tendon inserts on the posterior calcaneus. A patient with plantar fasciitis has tenderness along the posterior aspect of the sole, but he/she should not have tenderness with palpation of the posterior heel or ankle. A patient with a complete avulsion or rupture of the Achilles tendon demonstrates a palpable defect in the tendon, weakness in plantarflexion, and a positive Thompson test on physical examination. During the Thompson test, the examiner squeezes the calf. The test is negative if this maneuver results in passive plantarflexion of the ankle, which would indicate that the Achilles tendon is at least partially intact.
Non Surgical Treatment
The patient with retrocalcaneal bursitis should be instructed to apply ice to the posterior heel and ankle in the acute period of the bursitis. Icing can be performed several times a day, for 15-20 minutes each. Some clinicians also advocate the use of contrast baths. Gradual progressive stretching of the Achilles tendon may help relieve impingement on the subtendinous bursa and can be performed in the following manner. Stand in front of a wall, with the affected foot flat on the floor. Lean forward toward the wall until a gentle stretching is felt within the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. Maintain the stretch for 20-60 seconds and then relax. Perform the stretches with the knee extended and then again with the knee flexed. To maximize the benefit of the stretching program, repeat the above steps for several stretches per set, several times daily. Avoid ballistic (ie, abrupt, jerking) stretches. Other treatment options are microcurrent therapy and corticosteriod injection into the retrocalcaneal bursa. If conservation treatment fails then surgery is indicated.
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.