Bursae (two or more bursa) are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons and muscles surrounding your joints. They contain a lubricating fluid that reduces friction, allowing tissues in the body to glide past each other smoothly. Imagine the bursa as a protective layer that helps keep a tendon or muscle from fraying or getting aggravated as it eases over a bone or around a corner. Bursitis is a condition that occurs when a bursa becomes inflamed: irritated, red and filled with more fluid than normal.
Pain at the posterior heel or ankle is most commonly caused by pathology at either the posterior calcaneus (at the calcaneal insertion site of the Achilles tendon) or at its associated bursae. Two bursae are located just superior to the insertion of the Achilles (calcaneal) tendon. Anterior or deep to the tendon is the retrocalcaneal (subtendinous) bursa, which is located between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus. Posterior or superficial to the Achilles tendon is the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, also called the Achilles bursa. This bursa is located between the skin and posterior aspect of the distal Achilles tendon. Inflammation of either or both of these bursa can cause pain at the posterior heel and ankle region.
The following are the most common symptoms of bursitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Bursitis can cause pain, localized tenderness, and limited motion. Swelling and redness may occur if the inflamed bursa is close to the surface (superficial). Chronic bursitis may involve repeated attacks of pain, swelling, and tenderness, which may lead to the deterioration of muscles and a limited range of motion. The symptoms of bursitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
On physical examination, patients have tenderness at the site of the inflamed bursa. If the bursa is superficial, physical examination findings are significant for localized tenderness, warmth, edema, and erythema of the skin. Reduced active range of motion with preserved passive range of motion is suggestive of bursitis, but the differential diagnosis includes tendinitis and muscle injury. A decrease in both active and passive range of motion is more suggestive of other musculoskeletal disorders. In patients with chronic bursitis, the affected limb may show disuse atrophy and weakness. Tendons may also be weakened and tender.
Non Surgical Treatment
For non-infectious bursitis, the preliminary treatment starts with non-operative options such as cold compression therapy and Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy. Surgery to remove the inflamed bursa is normally not required for bursitis, however if you fail to see improvement with the conservative treatments, your physician may recommend surgery to remove the bursa completely. Although this removes the problem of an inflamed bursa, you are left with less cushioning in your joint which can lead to a host of other conditions.
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.
You can avoid the situation all together if you stop activity as soon as you see, and feel, the signs. Many runners attempt to push through pain, but ignoring symptoms only leads to more problems. It?s better to take some time off right away than to end up taking far more time off later. Runners aren?t the only ones at risk. The condition can happen to any type of athlete of any age. For all you women out there who love to wear high-heels-you?re at a greater risk as well. Plus, anyone whose shoes are too tight can end up with calcaneal bursitis, so make sure your footwear fits. If the outside of your heel and ankle hurts, calcaneal bursitis could be to blame. Get it checked out.