A properly functioning heel is essential to normal, smooth, and painless gait. The heel is the first area to strike the ground during normal gait, which means it takes the brunt of the stress incurred during walking and running activities. Of course, this also means that the heel is highly prone to injury. One such injury is called heel bursitis.
Wearing poorly fitting or constrictive footwear can cause the heel to become irritated and inflamed. Shoes that dig into the back of the heel are the primary cause of retroachilles bursitis. Foot or ankle deformity. A foot or ankle deformity can make it more likely to develop retrocalcaneal bursitis. For example, some people can have an abnormal, prominent shape of the top of their heel, known as a Haglund’s deformity. This condition increases the chances of irritating the bursa. A trauma to the affected heel, such as inadvertently striking the back of the heel against a hard object, can cause the bursa to fill with fluid, which in turn can irritate and inflame the bursa’s synovial membrane. Even though the body usually reabsorbs the fluid, the membrane may stay inflamed, causing bursitis symptoms.
Medical experts strongly recommend that you consult a doctor if you have any of the symptoms below. Disabling joint pain that prevents you from doing your daily activities. Pain that lasts for more than two weeks. Excessive swelling, redness, bruising or a rash around the painful joint. Sharp or shooting pain, especially when you exercise or do something more strenuous. A fever. Any of the above could be a sign of infection, a condition such as arthritis or a more serious injury such as a tendon tear that may require medical attention.
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
Long Term Treatment must be directed towards eliminating the abnormal tilting of the heel, regardless of its cause. If this is delayed, the usual results are the pain and swelling becomes worse, chronic, and debilitating. Eventually, painful calcifications and bone spur formations may occur on the back of the heel, along with tears in the Achilles Tendon. These are serious problems that may require surgical intervention. In order to eliminate abnormal heel tilt, the foot must be re-balanced. Controlling and reducing the biomechanical foot defects that are causing the heel to tilt best accomplish this. The “Gold Standard” of medical care (that treatment most used by doctors and therapists) to help eliminate pain, inflammation, and swelling at the back of the heel is orthotics.
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.