Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that act as shock absorbers and cushions for our bones and tendons. There are two such sacs located on the back of your heel. The subtendinous calcaneal, also called retrocalcaneal bursa, is situated between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone (calcaneus). The subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, which is also referred to as the Achilles bursa, is found on the backside of the heel and Achilles. If either or both of these bursae become inflamed, the result is pain and tenderness.
The inflammation of a bursa can result from any process that irritates or compresses it. The irritation causes the affected bursa to produce too much fluid and swell. In cases of traumatic injury, injured capillaries can leak blood into the bursa and cause it to swell.
Below is a list of common signs and symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis. Recognizing and treating symptoms early can prevent retrocalcaneal bursitis from becoming chronic. Swelling. The retrocalcaneal bursa is located behind the Achilles tendon, just above where the tendon attaches to the heel bone. When the bursa is inflamed it will cause visible soft tissue swelling near the top of the heel bone. It is worth noting that bursitis of the retroachilles bursa, which is located between the Achilles tendon and skin, can manifest slightly differently: swelling may be more distinct, appearing as a hard lump behind the heel. Retroachilles bursitis is also more likely than retrocalcaneal bursitis to cause the skin at the back of the heel to turn red.
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
Despite appropriate physiotherapy management, some patients with retrocalcaneal bursitis do not improve adequately. When this occurs the treating physiotherapist or doctor can advise on the best course of management. This may include further investigations such as an ultrasound, X-Ray, MRI or CT scan, pharmaceutical intervention, corticosteroid and anaesthetic injection into the retrocalcaneal bursa, draining of the bursa, or review by a specialist or podiatrist who can advise on any treatment that may be appropriate to improve the condition.
Only if non-surgical attempts at treatment fail, will it make sense to consider surgery. Surgery for retrocalcanel bursitis can include many different procedures. Some of these include removal of the bursa, removing any excess bone at the back of the heel (calcaneal exostectomy), and occasionally detachment and re-attachment of the Achilles tendon. If the foot structure and shape of the heel bone is a primary cause of the bursitis, surgery to re-align the heel bone (calcaneal osteotomy) may be considered. Regardless of which exact surgery is planned, the goal is always to decrease pain and correct the deformity. The idea is to get you back to the activities that you really enjoy. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the exact surgical procedure that is most likely to correct the problem in your case. But if you have to have surgery, you can work together to develop a plan that will help assure success.