Retrocalcaneal bursitis is a condition characterized by tissue damage and inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa (a small fluid filled sac located at the back of the heel) causing pain in the heel region. A bursa is a thin fluid filled sac found in various places throughout the body. Bursae are designed to reduce friction between adjacent layers of tissue and are filled with lubricating fluid. They are typically located in regions of the body where tissue layers may rub against each other or against bony prominences The muscle group at the back of the lower leg is commonly called the calf. The calf comprises of 2 major muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) both of which insert into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. Between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone lies a bursa known as the retrocalcaneal bursa.
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.
Unlike Achilles tendinitis, which tends to manifest itself slightly higher on the lower leg, Achilles tendon bursitis usually creates pain and irritation at the back of the heel. Possible signs of bursitis of the Achilles tendon include difficulty to rise on toes. Standing on your toes or wearing high heels may increase the heel pain. Inflammation and tenderness. The skin around your heel can become swollen and warm to the touch. Redness may be visible. Pain in the heel. Pain tends to become more prominent when walking, running, or touching the inflamed area. Stiffness. The back of your ankle may feel a little stiff due to the swelling of the bursa.
Your doctor will examine you, including an evaluation of your gait, while you are barefoot, your doctor will ask you to stand still and to walk in order to evaluate how your foot moves as you walk. An examination of your feet. Your doctor may compare your feet for any differences between them. Then your doctor may examine your painful foot for signs of tenderness, swelling, discoloration, muscle weakness and decreased range of motion. A neurological examination. The nerves and muscles may be evaluated by checking strength, sensation and reflexes. In addition to examining you, your health care professional may want to examine your shoes. Signs of excessive wear in certain parts of a shoe can provide valuable clues to problems in the way you walk and poor bone alignment. Depending on the results of your physical examination, you may need foot X-rays or other diagnostic tests.
Non Surgical Treatment
Surgery should always be the last option. We believe that biologic treatments that preserve normal anatomy are very helpful, particularly for runner, athletes, and active professionals with buy schedules. All non-surgical approaches attempt to calm down the inflammation of the bursa and Achilles tendon. They do not address the bony bump, but they can substantially reduce and shrink the inflamed soft tissue. Some non-surgical treatments include Oral Anti-inflammatory Medications. NSAID's (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) such as Motrin, Aleve, and Steroids (like prednisone) may help control the pain and stop the inflammation. Topical Anti-inflammatory Medications. NSAID's in cream or lotion form may be applied directly to the inflamed area. With these, there is no concern for stomach upset or other problems associated with oral medication. Ice. Ice can applied be applied right to the red, inflamed area and help calm it down. Try applying a podiatrist-approved ice pack to the affected area for 20 minutes of each hour. Just make sure you don't put ice directly against the skin. Exercises. Stretching exercises may relieve some of the tension in the Achilles tendon that started the problem. If you have Equinus Deformity (or a tight heel cord) this is critical to prevent it from coming back again. Heel lifts. Heel lifts placed inside the shoe can decrease the pressure on the Achilles tendon. Remember, pressure and friction cause the bump to become inflamed. Heel pads. Placing gel padding to cushion the Achilles tendon (at the back of the heel) can also help reduce irritation from shoes. Shoe modification. Wearing open-backed shoes, or shoes that have soft backs. This will also help stop the irritation. Physical therapy. Physical therapy, such as ultrasound, massage and stretching can all reduce the inflammation without surgery. Orthotic devices. Custom arch supports known as foot orthotics control abnormal motion in the foot that can allow the heel to tilt over and rub against the heel counter. Orthotics can decrease symptoms and help prevent it from happening again. Immobilization. In some cases, a walking cast boot or plaster/fiberglass cast is necessary to take pressure off the bursa and tendon, while allowing the area to calm down. ESWT. Extra-corporeal Shock Wave Therapy uses high energy sound waves to break up diseased tissue in the bursa and Achilles tendon and stimulate your own bodies healing processes to repair the diseased area. It may be done in the office or in a an outpatient surgery center. There is no incision and no stitches with ESWT. PRP. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is a therapeutic injection. A small sample of blood is drawn from the patient and the healing factors found in the platelets are concentrated in a centrifuge. By injecting the concentrated solution right into the damaged Achilles tendon, a powerful healing can be stimulated. This can be done in the office. No hospital or surgery required.
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.
Continue to wear your orthotics for work and exercise to provide stability and restore foot function. Select suitable shoes for work and physical activity that provide stability for the heel. Regular stretching of the calf muscle can prevent heel bursitis. Do not suddenly increase activity amount without appropriate conditioning.