Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that act as shock absorbers and cushions for our bones and tendons. There are two such sacs located on the back of your heel. The subtendinous calcaneal, also called retrocalcaneal bursa, is situated between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone (calcaneus). The subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, which is also referred to as the Achilles bursa, is found on the backside of the heel and Achilles. If either or both of these bursae become inflamed, the result is pain and tenderness.
Bursitis can develop for several reasons, including repetitively engaging in the same motion, or example, lifting objects above your head for work. Putting a lot of pressure on a bursa for an extended period of time. Leaning on your elbows or kneeling (for example, to lay carpet) can cause bursitis in the elbows or knees. If you sit for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces, you may develop bursitis in your hip. Wearing shoes with a stiff back that rubs against the back of the ankle can cause Achilles tendon bursitis. Trauma. The bursae at the knee and elbow are close to the surface of the skin, and if you fall directly on your elbow or the knee, you can rupture, injure or puncture a bursa. Infection. Known as septic bursitis, it?s the result of bacteria infecting a bursa. It can occur from an infection traveling from another site or following an accident that ruptures the bursa. Even scraping the skin on your elbow or getting a mosquito bite that breaks the skin near the olecranon bursa (near the elbow) can lead to bursitis. Other joint disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and gout, or health conditions.
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.
Plain radiographs of the calcaneus may reveal a Haglund deformity (increased prominence of the posterosuperior aspect of the calcaneus). However, on weight-bearing lateral radiographs, the retrocalcaneal recess often appears normal even in patients with retrocalcaneal bursitis, limiting its usefulness in making this diagnosis.Radiographs may be used as a diagnostic measure to support a clinician?s diagnosis of retrocalcaneal bursitis. Individuals with retrocalcaneal bursitis may have an absence of the normal radiolucency (ie, blunting) that is seen in the posteroinferior corner of the Kager fat pad, known as the retrocalcaneal recess or bursal wedge. This may occur with or without an associated erosion of the calcaneus.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are a variety of treatments for bursitis of the heel. Bursitis on the bottom of your heel (which is called infracalcaneal bursitis) is common in heels with thinning fat pads. Gel heel cushions or custom made orthotics (that have a horse-shoe cut and extra foam in the heel) can be lifesavers in reducing the pain. For bursitis of the posterior heel (retrocalcaneal bursitis), try to avoid going barefoot and to reduce the stress on the Achilles tendon by not over flexing your heel, the tighter your Achilles becomes, the more you compress the bursa sacs of the posterior heel. Heel lifts can help this, or wearing shoes with elevated heels (note that this method is not sanctioning high heels, as high heels can provide little comfort or support and usually are tight in the areas where your bursitis is most inflamed). Products such as AirHeel made by Aircast can help massage the bottom and back of the heel, helping to decrease pain.
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.