Bursae (two or more bursa) are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons and muscles surrounding your joints. They contain a lubricating fluid that reduces friction, allowing tissues in the body to glide past each other smoothly. Imagine the bursa as a protective layer that helps keep a tendon or muscle from fraying or getting aggravated as it eases over a bone or around a corner. Bursitis is a condition that occurs when a bursa becomes inflamed: irritated, red and filled with more fluid than normal.
There are several factors which can lead to a person developing retrocalcaneal bursitis. In athletes, especially runners, overtraining, sudden excessive increase in running mileage may lead to retrocalcaneal bursitis. Tight or ill-fitting shoes can be another causative factor as they can produce excessive pressure at the back of the heel due to restrictive heel counter. A person with an excessively prominent posterosuperior aspect of the heel bone (Haglund deformity) may also have a higher predisposition to retrocalcaneal bursitis. In such individuals, pain would be reproduced when the ankle goes into dorsiflexion.
Retrocalcaneal bursitis is very similar to Achilles bursitis as the bursae are very close in proximity and symptoms are almost identical however retrocalcaneal bursitis is a lot more common. The symptoms of bursitis vary depending on whether the bursitis is the result of injury or an underlying health condition or from infection. From normal overuse and injury the pain is normally a constant dull ache or burning pain at the back of the heel that is aggravated by any touch, pressure like tight shoes or movement of the joint. There will normally be notable swelling around the back of the heel. In other cases where the bursa lies deep under the skin in the hip or shoulder, swelling might not be visible. Movement of the ankle and foot will be stiff, especially in the mornings and after any activity involving the elbow. All of these symptoms are experienced with septic bursitis with the addition of a high temperature of 38?C or over and feverish chills. The skin around the affected joint will also appear to be red and will feel incredibly warm to the touch. In cases of septic bursitis it is important that you seek medical attention. With injury induced bursitis if symptoms are still persisting after 2 weeks then report to your GP.
A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist may be all that is necessary to diagnose a retrocalcaneal bursitis. Diagnosis may be confirmed with an ultrasound investigation, MRI or CT scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
In addition to R.I.C.E., there are a number of other treatments to reduce swelling and any associated pain or discomfort due to heel bursitis. Orthotics or change of footwear. Wearing an orthotic device such as a heel insert can encourage better mechanics in the foot and reduce irritation of the retrocalcaneal bursa. Some people do not need special orthotics but simply need to stop wearing shoes with rigid heel and ankle construction and instead wear more supportive, comfortable shoes. Shoes with an "Achilles notch," a groove in the collar at the back of the shoe to protect the Achilles tendon, can be particularly helpful. (Almost all running shoes are designed with an Achilles notch.) Stretching and physical therapy. Stretching the Achilles tendon often helps alleviate pain. Once the pain is resolved it is important for the patient to continue a regular stretching program. Regular stretching reduces the chance of recurrence.
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).