Retrocalcaneal bursitis and Achilles bursitis are the most widely spread types of ankle / heel bursitis out there. However, there are several bursa lubrication fluid sacs behind the heel bone protecting this area that may become irritated, inflammed and painful.
Retrocalcaneal bursitis is generally caused by local trauma from poorly designed shoes. Patients complain of posterolateral heel pain and may have a posterior heel prominence (?pump bump?), as well as local swelling and tenderness over the Achilles tendon. Pain is increased by squeezing the bursa from side to side and anterior to the Achilles. A heel lift and open-back shoes help alleviate pressure.
Pain and tenderness are common symptoms. If the affected joint is close to the skin, as with the shoulder, knee, elbow, or Achilles tendon, swelling and redness are seen and the area may feel warm to the touch. The bursae around the hip joint are deeper, and swelling is not obvious. Movement may be limited and is painful. In the shoulder, it may be difficult to raise the arm out from the side of the body. Putting on a jacket or combing the hair becomes a troublesome activity. In acute bursitis symptoms appear suddenly, with chronic bursitis, pain, tenderness, and limited movement reappear after exercise or strain.
Carrying out a diagnosis for bursitis is fairly straightforward. The doctor will examine the affected area and ask the patient some questions about his/her recent activities. If the patient has a high temperature the physician may take a small sample of fluid from a bursa near the affected body part. The sample will be tested for bacteria, and perhaps also crystals. If the patient does not get better after treatment the doctor may carry out further tests so that he/she can eliminate the possibility that the symptoms might not be due to something else. These may include an x-ray, to make sure no bones are broken or fractured. Blood tests, to check for rheumatoid arthritis. A CT scan or MRI scan to see if there is a torn tendon.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment consists of anti-inflammatory therapy with the use of ice, short term non steroidal therapy including ibuprofen and naproxen and selective use of cortisone injections. Cortisone injections have been shown to be a highly effective anti-inflammatory measure for relieving foot and ankle pain. Care must always be taken by the physician to insure that the injection is administered into the bursal sac and not the Achilles tendon which can cause tendon injury. Treatment also consists of the use of heel lifts or the temporary use of a shoe with a low heel. The heel lift decreases the mechanical load on the Achilles tendon. Gentle stretching of the Achilles tendon, the possible use of a splint that is worn at night as well as physical therapy as directed by your physician can be employed. Temporary activity limitations for fitness must be incorporated into the treatment plan. Any weight bearing activity for exercise that actively lifts your heel off of the ground including running, walking stair stepper will interfere with effective conservative care. Low impact activity including biking and pool tend to be safe exercises during your recovery.
Surgery is rarely done strictly for treatment of a bursitis. If any underlying cause is the reason, this may be addressed surgically. During surgery for other conditions, a bursa may be seen and removed surgically.