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Overview

Retrocalcaneal bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa at the back of the heel bone (calcaneus). This causes pain with up-and-down movements of the foot. Alternative name is Insertional heel pain.

Causes

For the most part, it is a genetic condition. You develop it by inheriting a foot type that is prone to the mechanical irritation that leads to the problem. If you have this particular foot type and wear shoes that rub and irritate the back of the heel bone (calcaneus) where the Achilles tendon attaches, then you are even more likely to develop this type of bursitis. The contributing factors include a supinated foot type, a heel bone with a prominence (or pointed shape that stick out toward the tendon) at the back, a tight Achilles tendon (referred to as Equinus by doctors), and a high arch. All of these factors simply make it more likely that the back of the heel will press against the shoe and rub. As the tendon gets rubbed the wrong way, the bursa starts to develop and fill with fluid. This response is really your body’s way of protecting the tendon from damage, but it backfires. The friction from all that rubbing causes the bursa to become inflamed and swell. This causes the bump to become red, hot and stick out even further. Much like a sore thumb, it then gets irritated by even the softest shoes.

Symptoms

Symptoms of bursitis usually occur after rest and relaxation. Upon activity there is usually more intense pain in the area of the bursa. The common areas to have a bursitis in the foot are in the bottom of the heel, behind the heel near the attachment of the Achilles Tendon as well as along the side of a bunion. A bursa may also form in multiple areas especially along the metatarsal heads, or “ball” of your foot. You may actually feel the sac like fluid when rubbing the area of pain.

Diagnosis

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

The initial treatment for retrocalcaneal bursitis is to avoid activities that cause pain and take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (for example, ibruprofen). Your doctor may recommend icing the heel several times a day and may prescribe physical therapy to improve flexibility and strength around the ankle. Physical therapy serves two functions, it can help the bursitis improve and it can help prevent future recurrences.

Surgical Treatment

Only if non-surgical attempts at treatment fail, will it make sense to consider surgery. Surgery for retrocalcanel bursitis can include many different procedures. Some of these include removal of the bursa, removing any excess bone at the back of the heel (calcaneal exostectomy), and occasionally detachment and re-attachment of the Achilles tendon. If the foot structure and shape of the heel bone is a primary cause of the bursitis, surgery to re-align the heel bone (calcaneal osteotomy) may be considered. Regardless of which exact surgery is planned, the goal is always to decrease pain and correct the deformity. The idea is to get you back to the activities that you really enjoy. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the exact surgical procedure that is most likely to correct the problem in your case. But if you have to have surgery, you can work together to develop a plan that will help assure success.

Prevention

To prevent bursitis of the heel in the first place, always keep proper form during exercise. In addition, don?t jump into exercises that are too intense without building up to them. Strengthen and flex your ankle.

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