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.
Systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus, pancreatitis, Whipple disease, oxalosis, uremia, hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy, and idiopathic hypereosinophilic syndrome have also been associated with bursitis.
What are the symptoms of heel bursitis? pain, swelling, tenderness, redness, and/or warmth at either the bottom of the heel or top of the heel, depending on the degree of swelling, pain may be a dull ache or substantial enough to cause limping, running, jumping, and walking activities may exacerbate pain, wearing poorly fitting, tight, or high-heeled shoes may exacerbate pain.
Careful examination by your physician or physiotherapist can determine if the inflammation is from the Achilles tendon or from the retrocalcaneal bursa. Tenderness due to insertional Achilles tendinitis is normally located slightly more distal where the tendon inserts into the back of the heel, whereas tenderness caused by the retrocalcaneal bursa is normally palpable at the sides of the distal Achilles tendon. Diagnosis can be confirmed with an ultrasound investigation, MRI or CT scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
The underlying cause of the bursitis must be identified to prevent further reoccurrences. Failure to eliminate the cause will lead to future flare ups and a poor and slow recovery. Future occurrences can be prevented with the use of stretches and strengthening exercises which will help prevent the muscles from tightening up over the bursa, Pilates and yoga are very good for this providing the aggravating movements are avoided. Wearing joint supports such as knee pads or elbow supports may also reduce the likelihood of redeveloping bursitis.
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.