Bursitis (ber-SEYE-tis) is swelling and pain of a bursa. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion or shock absorber between a tendon and a bone. A tendon is a cord of tough tissue that connects muscles to bones. Normally a bursa has a small amount of fluid in it. When injured, the bursa becomes inflamed (red and sore) and may fill with too much fluid. Achilles (ah-KIL-eez) tendon bursitis is a type of ankle bursitis when the bursa between the Achilles tendon and the heel becomes inflamed. You may have Achilles bursitis and tendonitis (inflamed tendon) at the same time.
Repetitive, vigorous movement, strenuous and unaccustomed activities that put pressure on a joint, or a blow or other injury can bring on bursitis. The cause can vary depending on where the bursitis occurs. In the shoulder, for example, it can be brought on by excessive strain, such as from serving in tennis. Kneeling on a hard floor can cause bursitis of the knee, and similarly, repeatedly resting the elbow on a hard surface (such as a desk) can cause bursitis in that joint. Arthritis, gout, and certain infections can also contribute to the problem. Bursitis, in fact, may signal the onset of arthritis. While getting older isn't a cause of bursitis, older people, especially older athletes, are more likely to develop the condition.
Unlike Achilles tendinitis, which tends to manifest itself slightly higher on the lower leg, Achilles tendon bursitis usually creates pain and irritation at the back of the heel. Possible signs of bursitis of the Achilles tendon include difficulty to rise on toes. Standing on your toes or wearing high heels may increase the heel pain. Inflammation and tenderness. The skin around your heel can become swollen and warm to the touch. Redness may be visible. Pain in the heel. Pain tends to become more prominent when walking, running, or touching the inflamed area. Stiffness. The back of your ankle may feel a little stiff due to the swelling of the bursa.
Diagnosis of heel bursitis can be made by your health practitioner and is based on the following. Assessing the location of the pain by palpating the back of the heel. Assessment of any inflammation at the back of the heel. Assessment of biomechanics and foot function. Ultrasound or MRI can reveal inflammation of the retro calcaneal bursa.
Non Surgical Treatment
The patient with retrocalcaneal bursitis should be instructed to apply ice to the posterior heel and ankle in the acute period of the bursitis. Icing can be performed several times a day, for 15-20 minutes each. Some clinicians also advocate the use of contrast baths. Gradual progressive stretching of the Achilles tendon may help relieve impingement on the subtendinous bursa and can be performed in the following manner. Stand in front of a wall, with the affected foot flat on the floor. Lean forward toward the wall until a gentle stretching is felt within the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. Maintain the stretch for 20-60 seconds and then relax. Perform the stretches with the knee extended and then again with the knee flexed. To maximize the benefit of the stretching program, repeat the above steps for several stretches per set, several times daily. Avoid ballistic (ie, abrupt, jerking) stretches. Other treatment options are microcurrent therapy and corticosteriod injection into the retrocalcaneal bursa. If conservation treatment fails then surgery is indicated.
Surgery is rarely done strictly for treatment of a bursitis. If any underlying cause is the reason, this may be addressed surgically. During surgery for other conditions, a bursa may be seen and removed surgically.
You can help to prevent heel pain and bursitis by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch of the foot and cushion the heel. If you are prone to plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon (heel cord) and plantar fascia may help to prevent the area from being injured again. You also can massage the soles of your feet with ice after stressful athletic activities. Sometimes, the only interventions needed are a brief period of rest and new walking or running shoes.