Retrocalcaneal Bursitis. This bursa is located at the back of the heel. Bursitis in this area is often associated with conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis or rheumatoid arthritis. It can occur in healthy individuals who wear improperly fitted shoes. Symptoms include painful swelling that develops at the back of the heel. Calcaneal Bursitis. This bursa is located at the sole or bottom of the heel. Inflammation usually produces pain in the heel when standing. Causes include heel spurs, excess weight, injury, and wearing improperly fitted shoes.
The most common causes of bursitis are injury or overuse, although infection may also be a cause. Bursitis is also associated with other causes, such as arthritis, gout, tendinitis, diabetes, and thyroid disease.
Patients with this condition typically experience pain at the back of the ankle and heel where the Achilles tendon attaches into the heel bone. Pain is typically experienced during activities requiring strong or repetitive calf contractions (often involving end of range ankle movements) such as walking (especially uphill), going up and down stairs, running, jumping or hopping (especially whilst wearing excessively tight shoes). Often pain may be worse with rest after these activities (especially that night or the following morning). The pain associated with this condition may ‘warm up’ with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Other symptoms may include tenderness on firmly touching the affected bursa and swelling around the Achilles region.
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
Rest and apply cold therapy or ice. Ice should not be applied directly to the skin as it may cause ice burns but wrap in a wet tea towel. Commercially available hot and cold packs are often more convenience than using ice. Taping the bursa with a donut shaped pad to take some of the pressure from footwear may help. A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication e.g. ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation. Applying electrotherapy such as ultrasound may reduce inflammation and swelling. A steroid injection followed by 48 hours rest may be given for persistent cases. If the bursitis is particularly bad and does not respond to conservative treatment then surgery is also an option.
Surgery is rarely need to treat most of these conditions. A patient with a soft tissue rheumatic syndrome may need surgery, however, if problems persist and other treatment methods do not help symptoms.