Retrocalcaneal bursitis is a condition characterized by tissue damage and inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa (a small fluid filled sac located at the back of the heel) causing pain in the heel region. A bursa is a thin fluid filled sac found in various places throughout the body. Bursae are designed to reduce friction between adjacent layers of tissue and are filled with lubricating fluid. They are typically located in regions of the body where tissue layers may rub against each other or against bony prominences The muscle group at the back of the lower leg is commonly called the calf. The calf comprises of 2 major muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) both of which insert into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. Between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone lies a bursa known as the retrocalcaneal bursa.
The most common causes of bursitis are injury or overuse, although infection may also be a cause. Bursitis is also associated with other causes, such as arthritis, gout, tendinitis, diabetes, and thyroid disease.
When the bursa becomes inflamed after an injury, symptoms usually develop suddenly. When the bursa develops without an injury, symptoms may develop gradually. With both posterior and anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, symptoms usually include swelling and warmth at the back of the heel. A minimally red, swollen, tender spot develops on the back of the heel. When the inflamed bursa enlarges, it appears as a red lump under the skin of the heel and causes pain at and above the heel. If posterior Achilles tendon bursitis becomes chronic, the swelling may become hard, fluid-filled, and red or flesh-colored.
Obtaining a detailed history from the patient is important in diagnosing calcaneal bursitis. The following complaints (which the physician should ask about during the subjective examination) are commonly reported by patients.
Other inquiries that the physician should make include the following. The clinician should ask about the patient's customary footwear (whether, for example, it includes high-heeled shoes or tight-fitting athletic shoes). The patient should be asked specifically about any recent change in footwear, such as whether he/she is wearing new athletic shoes or whether the patient has made a transition from flat shoes to high heels or vice versa. Individuals who have been accustomed to wearing high-heeled shoes on a long-term basis may find that switching to flat shoes causes increased stretch and irritation of the Achilles tendon and the associated bursae. The specifics of a patient's activity level should be ascertained, including how far the patient runs and, in particular, whether the individual is running with greater intensity than before or has increased the distance being run. The history of any known or suspected underlying rheumatologic conditions, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or seronegative spondyloarthropathies, should be obtained.
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 to remove the damaged bursa may be performed in extreme cases. If the bursitis is caused by an infection, then additional treatment is needed. Septic bursitis is caused by the presence of a pus-forming organism, usually staphylococcus aureus. This is confirmed by examining a sample of the fluid in the bursa and requires treatment with antibiotics taken by mouth, injected into a muscle or into a vein (intravenously). The bursa will also need to be drained by needle two or three times over the first week of treatment. When a patient has such a serious infection, there may be underlying causes. There could be undiscovered diabetes, or an inefficient immune system caused by human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV).
Do not run if you have pain. When you begin running again, avoid running fast uphill or downhill until the tendon is fully healed. Start exercising when caregivers say that it is OK. Slowly start exercise such as bicycling when caregivers say it is OK. When doing exercises that put pressure on the ankles, such as running or walking, exercise on flat, even surfaces. Avoid doing these exercises on very hard surfaces such as asphalt or concrete. Stretch before exercising. Always warm up your muscles and stretch gently before exercising. Do cool down exercises when you are finished. This will loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your heel. Wear heel protectors. Use soft foam or felt heel pads (wedges or cups) to help decrease pressure against your heel. Ask your caregiver which heel pads are the best for you. Wear well-fitting shoes. Buy running or exercise shoes that support and fit your feet well. Do not wear low-cut shoes. Talk to your caregiver or go to a special exercise footwear store to get well-fitting athletic shoes. Ask your caregiver if you should wear specially-made shoe inserts called orthotics (or-THOT-iks). Orthotics can line up your feet in your shoes to help you run, walk and exercise correctly.