A bursa is a small sack of fluid that sits between a tendon and a bone to help the tendon move smoothly over the bone. The retrocalcaneal bursa in situated in the feet between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus or heel bone. With repeated trauma the bursa can become inflamed. Achilles tendon bursitis is often mistaken for achilles tendinitis. It is possible for the athlete to have both achilles tendinitis and achilles tendon bursitis at the same time which is known as Haglund's syndrome.
Inflammation of the calcaneal bursae is most commonly caused by repetitive overuse and cumulative trauma, as seen in runners wearing tight-fitting shoes. Such bursitis may also be associated with conditions such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and seronegative spondyloarthropathies. In some cases, subtendinous calcaneal bursitis is caused by bursal impingement between the Achilles tendon and an excessively prominent posterior superior aspect of a calcaneus that has been affected by Haglund deformity.
Unlike Achilles tendinitis, which tends to manifest itself slightly higher on the lower leg, Achilles tendon bursitis usually creates pain and irritation at the back of the heel. Possible signs of bursitis of the Achilles tendon include difficulty to rise on toes. Standing on your toes or wearing high heels may increase the heel pain. Inflammation and tenderness. The skin around your heel can become swollen and warm to the touch. Redness may be visible. Pain in the heel. Pain tends to become more prominent when walking, running, or touching the inflamed area. Stiffness. The back of your ankle may feel a little stiff due to the swelling of the bursa.
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
Many times, Achilles tendon bursitis can be treated with home care. However, if self-care remedies do not work, your doctor may need to administer additional treatments. Home care. The most important thing you can do to help your healing is to refrain from activities that could further aggravate the bursitis. Typical home-care treatments for Achilles tendon bursitis include Anti-inflammatory medication. Take over-the-counter pain medication, like aspirin or ibuprofen, to reduce pain and swelling. Heel wedges. An over-the-counter or custom heel wedge can be placed in your shoe to minimize stress in the Achilles tendon. Ice. Apply ice or other cold therapy to your sore heel several times a day. Rest. Limit your activity on the injured leg, avoid putting pressure on it whenever possible. Also, elevate your leg during non-use to help reduce the swelling. The above remedies may be used on their own or in combination with others on the list. Physician-administered treatments. If the above self-care remedies are not effective, you should visit your doctor for additional treatment. Possible Achilles tendon bursitis treatments your doctor may administer include immobilization. If the bursitis is combined with Achilles tendonitis, your doctor may place a temporary cast on the ankle to prevent movement and allow it to heal. Physical therapy. Exercises may be used to improve the ankle's strength and flexibility. Steroids. Injection of steroids into the retrocalcaneal bursa (not the Achilles tendon) may be necessary. Surgery. In very rare circumstances, surgery may be needed to remove the retrocalcaneal bursa, however, this is typically a last resort.
Bursectomy is a surgical procedure used to remove an inflamed or infected bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between tissues of the body. Because retrocalcaneal bursitis can cause chronic inflammation, pain and discomfort, bursectomy may be used as a treatment for the condition when it is persistent and cannot be relived with other treatments. During this procedure, a surgeon makes small incisions so that a camera may be inserted into the joint. This camera is called an arthroscope. Another small incision is made so that surgical instruments can be inserted to remove the inflamed bursa.