Heel Bursitis is a condition where one of the bursae at the back of the heel becomes swollen, inflamed and painful. A bursa is a fluid filled sac that cushions muscles, tendons and joints. There are 3 main types of bursitis associated with heel bursitis. These include Retro-calcaneal bursitis, Achilles bursitis, and Sub-calcaneal bursitis. The locations of the 3 bursae are: the insertion point of the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel (retro-calcaneal bursa), between the Achilles tendon and the skin at the back of the heel (Achilles bursa), and the bottom of the heel (sub-calcaneal bursa).
There are several factors which can lead to a person developing retrocalcaneal bursitis. In athletes, especially runners, overtraining, sudden excessive increase in running mileage may lead to retrocalcaneal bursitis. Tight or ill-fitting shoes can be another causative factor as they can produce excessive pressure at the back of the heel due to restrictive heel counter. A person with an excessively prominent posterosuperior aspect of the heel bone (Haglund deformity) may also have a higher predisposition to retrocalcaneal bursitis. In such individuals, pain would be reproduced when the ankle goes into dorsiflexion.
Posterior heel pain is the chief complaint in individuals with calcaneal bursitis. Patients may report limping caused by the posterior heel pain. Some individuals may also report an obvious swelling (eg, a pump bump, a term that presumably comes from the swelling’s association with high-heeled shoes or pumps). The condition may be unilateral or bilateral. Symptoms are often worse when the patient first begins an activity after rest.
Your health care provider will take a history to find out if you have symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis. Examining your ankle can find the location of the pain. The physician will look for tenderness and redness in the back of the heel. The pain may be worse when the doctor bends the ankle upward (dorsiflex). Or, the pain may be worse when you rise on your toes. You will not usually need imaging studies such as x-ray and MRI at first. If the first treatment does not improve the symptoms, your health care provider may recommend these tests. MRI may show inflammation.
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.
Surgery. Though rare, particularly challenging cases of retrocalcaneal bursitis might warrant a bursectomy, in which the troublesome bursa is removed from the back of the ankle. Surgery can be effective, but operating on this boney area can cause complications, such as trouble with skin healing at the incision site. In addition to removing the bursa, a doctor may use the surgery to treat another condition associated with the retrocalcaneal bursitis. For example, a surgeon may remove a sliver of bone from the back of the heel to alter foot mechanics and reduce future friction. Any bone spurs located where the Achilles attaches to the heel may also be removed. Regardless of the conservative treatment that is provided, it is important to wait until all pain and swelling around the back of the heel is gone before resuming activities. This may take several weeks. Once symptoms are gone, a patient may make a gradual return to his or her activity level before their bursitis symptoms began. Returning to activities that cause friction or stress on the bursa before it is healed will likely cause bursitis symptoms to flare up again.