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.
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.
Limping. Decreased movement. Your ankles may feel stiff or unable to move as well as they usually do. Pain or tenderness in the back of the ankle. It may be worse at the beginning of exercise, or when running uphill. You may also have pain when wearing shoes. Redness and warmth. If the bursa is infected, the skin over the heel may be red and warm. You may also have a fever. Swelling on the back of the heel.
Bursitis is usually diagnosed after a careful physical examination and a full review of your medical history. If you garden and spend a lot of time on your knees, or if you have rheumatoid arthritis, tell your doctor, this information can be very helpful. During the physical exam, he or she will press on different spots around the joint that hurts. The goal is to locate the specific bursa that is causing the problem. The doctor will also test your range of motion in the affected joint. Other tests usually aren?t required to diagnose bursitis, but your doctor may suggest an MRI, X-ray or ultrasound to rule out other potential causes of pain.
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.
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.