During contraction of the calf muscle, tension is placed through the Achilles tendon and this rubs against the retrocalcaneal bursa. Compressive forces and friction may also be placed on the retrocalcaneal bursa during certain ankle movements or by wearing excessively tight shoes. When these forces are excessive due to too much repetition or high force, irritation and inflammation of the bursa may occur. This condition is known as retrocalcaneal bursitis.
Bursitis can be caused by an injury, an infection, or a pre-existing condition in which crystals can form in the bursa. Injury. An injury can irritate the tissue inside the bursa and cause inflammation. Doctors say that bursitis caused by an injury usually takes time to develop. The joints, tendons, or muscles that are near the bursae may have been overused. Most commonly, injury is caused by repetitive movements.
Posterior heel pain is the chief complaint in individuals with calcaneal bursitis. Patients may report limping caused by the posterior heel pain. Some individuals may also report an obvious swelling (eg, a pump bump, a term that presumably comes from the swelling’s association with high-heeled shoes or pumps). The condition may be unilateral or bilateral. Symptoms are often worse when the patient first begins an activity after rest.
The doctor will discuss your symptoms and visually assess the bones and soft tissue in your foot. If a soft tissue injury is suspected, an MRI will likely be done to view where and how much the damage is in your ankle. An x-ray may be recommended to rule out a bone spur or other foreign body as the cause of your ankle pain. As the subcutaneous bursa is close to the surface of the skin, it is more susceptible to septic, or infectious, bursitis caused by a cut or scrape at the back of the heel. Septic bursitis required antibiotics to get rid of the infection. Your doctor will be able to determine whether there is an infection or not by drawing a small sample of the bursa fluid with a needle.
Non Surgical Treatment
Gradually progressive stretching of the Achilles tendon may help to relieve impingement on the subtendinous calcaneal bursa. Stretching of the Achilles tendon can be performed by having the patient place the affected foot flat on the floor and lean forward toward the wall until a gentle stretch is felt in the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. The stretch is maintained for 20-60 seconds and then is relaxed. Achilles stretch 1. The patient stands with the affected foot flat on the floor and leans forward toward the wall until a gentle stretch is felt in the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. The stretch is maintained for 20-60 seconds and then is relaxed. Achilles stretch 2. This stretch, which is somewhat more advanced than that shown in Images 1-2, isolates the Achilles tendon. It is held for at least 20-30 seconds and then is relaxed. To maximize the benefit of the stretching program, the patient should repeat the exercise for multiple stretches per set, multiple times per day. Ballistic (ie, abrupt, jerking) stretches should be avoided in order to prevent clinical exacerbation. The patient should be instructed to ice the posterior heel and ankle in order to reduce inflammation and pain. Icing can be performed for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day, during the acute period, which may last for several days. Some clinicians also advocate the use of contrast baths, ultrasound or phonophoresis, iontophoresis, or electrical stimulation for treatment of calcaneal bursitis. If the patient’s activity level needs to be decreased as a result of this condition, alternative means of maintaining strength and cardiovascular fitness (eg, swimming, water aerobics) should be suggested.
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.