During contraction of the calf muscle, tension is placed through the Achilles tendon and this rubs against the retrocalcaneal bursa. Compressive forces and friction may also be placed on the
retrocalcaneal bursa during certain ankle movements or by wearing excessively tight shoes. When these forces are excessive due to too much repetition or high force, irritation and inflammation of the
bursa may occur. This condition is known as retrocalcaneal bursitis.
Inflammation of the calcaneal bursae is most commonly caused by repetitive overuse and cumulative trauma, as seen in runners wearing tight-fitting shoes. Such bursitis may also be associated with
conditions such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and seronegative spondyloarthropathies. In some cases, subtendinous calcaneal bursitis is caused by bursal impingement between the Achilles tendon and
an excessively prominent posterior superior aspect of a calcaneus that has been affected by Haglund deformity.
The main symptom of heel bursitis is pain. You may experience pain in your heel when you walk or run. There may also be pain if the area is touched or if you stand on your tiptoes. In addition to
pain, the area may appear red and warm, which are both signs of inflammation. Even if you have these symptoms, only a doctor can determine if you have bursitis of the heel. Your doctor will use these
symptoms along with a general exam to determine if you are suffering from bursitis of the heel.
The diagnosis is based on the symptoms and an examination. For anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, doctors use x-rays to rule out a fracture of the heel bone or damage to the heel bone caused by
rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory arthritis.
Non Surgical Treatment
In addition to being aware of foot-wear and inserts, be sure to modify your activity level to reduce the pain initially. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and icing twice a day
for 20 minute periods can help reduce the swell that leads to heel pain. Cortisone injections (more powerful anti-inflammatory medications) can be considered if your symptoms are persistent. After
the swelling and pain has receded, ask your podiatrist about working with a physical therapist to strengthen the affected area in order to avoid bursitis by using your muscles in a more safe and
efficient manner. If all these treatment methods fail, surgery may be the best option to excise a painful bursa (note that this is in rare cases).
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.