Bursitis means inflammation of the bursa. A bursa is a sac-like structure that contains a lubricating fluid. A bursa is located anywhere you need a lubricating cushion-like where a muscle or tendon rubs over a bone or another muscle. Normally a bursa does its job unnoticed, but if you engage in some strenuous activity, for example, it can let you know exactly where it is. When a bursa is repeatedly irritated, the body begins to deposit calcium spicules in that location (often these deposits can be seen on X-rays). The spicules are like ground glass in the bursa, and the more you move that part of your body, the more intense the pain.
The most common cause of bursitis is repeated physical activity, but it can flare up for no known reason. It can also be caused by trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and acute or chronic infection.
In retrocalcaneal bursitis, pain at the back of the heel is the main complaint from patients. Pain may worsen when tip-toeing, running uphill, jumping or hopping. Often, those who are accustomed to wearing high-heeled shoes on a long-term basis may also complain of pain at the back of the heel when switching to flat shoes. This is because when in high-heeled shoes, the calf muscle and the Achilles tendon are in a shortened position. Switching to flat shoes would cause an increased stretch to the calf muscle and Achilles tendon, irritating the Achilles tendon and the retrocalcaneal bursa. Other symptoms may include redness and swelling at the back of the heel.
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 most important part of treating bursitis is resting your Achilles tendon while the bursa heals. Resting your ankle as much as possible may decrease swelling and keep the bursitis from getting worse. When the pain decreases, begin normal, slow movements. Ice causes blood vessels to constrict (get small) which helps decrease inflammation (swelling, pain, and redness). Put crushed ice in a plastic bag or use a bag of frozen corn or peas. Cover it with a towel. Put this on your heel for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times each day. Do not sleep on the ice pack because you can get frostbite. After two or three days, you may try using heat to decrease pain and stiffness. Use a hot water bottle, heating pad, whirlpool or warm, moist compress. To make a compress, dip a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring out the extra water and put it on your heel for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times each day. Your caregiver may tell you to switch between treating your heel with ice packs and heat treatments. Follow the caregiver's directions carefully when doing these treatments.
Surgery is rarely need to treat most of these conditions. A patient with a soft tissue rheumatic syndrome may need surgery, however, if problems persist and other treatment methods do not help symptoms.
You may be able to prevent bursitis from happening or coming back. Continue your home treatment with rest, ice, pain relievers, and gentle exercises. When you are ready to try the activity that caused the pain, start slowly and do it for short periods or at a slower speed. Warm up before and stretch after the activity. Increase your activity slowly, and stop if it hurts. Use ice afterward to prevent pain and swelling. Change the way you do activities with repeated movements that may strain your muscles or joints. For example if using a certain tool has caused bursitis, start switching hands or change the grip size of your tool. If sitting for long periods has caused bursitis, get up and walk around every hour. If a certain sport is causing bursitis, consider taking lessons to learn proper techniques. Have an expert check your equipment to make sure it's well suited to your size, strength, and ability. If certain activities at work may be causing bursitis, talk to your human resources department about other ways of doing your job, equipment changes, or other job assignments. Protect your joints from pressure. Cushion knees or elbows on hard surfaces, and wear shoes that fit you well and have good support.