Heel bursitis is a common foot pain in athletes, and is often mistaken for Achilles tendinitis, although it can also occur together with Achilles tendinitis. Heel bursitis occurs when small cushions in the heel called bursas become inflamed and swell with fluid irritating surrounding tissue and pressing on nerves. Other names given to heel bursitis are Achilles bursitis and Retrocalcaneal bursitis.
Pain at the posterior heel or ankle is most commonly caused by pathology at either the posterior calcaneus (at the calcaneal insertion site of the Achilles tendon) or at its associated bursae. Two bursae are located just superior to the insertion of the Achilles (calcaneal) tendon. Anterior or deep to the tendon is the retrocalcaneal (subtendinous) bursa, which is located between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus. Posterior or superficial to the Achilles tendon is the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, also called the Achilles bursa. This bursa is located between the skin and posterior aspect of the distal Achilles tendon. Inflammation of either or both of these bursa can cause pain at the posterior heel and ankle region.
The following are the most common symptoms of bursitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Bursitis can cause pain, localized tenderness, and limited motion. Swelling and redness may occur if the inflamed bursa is close to the surface (superficial). Chronic bursitis may involve repeated attacks of pain, swelling, and tenderness, which may lead to the deterioration of muscles and a limited range of motion. The symptoms of bursitis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
A physical examination will be performed to determine if you have any signs of Achilles Bursitis or other ankle injury. He/she will look and feel the soft tissue and bones in your ankles to note any differences between the two of them. This will identify any abnormalities, such as swelling, bone deformities, atrophied muscles, redness and/or warmth on the skin. In many cases, the first sign that you have Achilles bursitis is swelling in the back of the foot and ankle pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Surgery should always be the last option. We believe that biologic treatments that preserve normal anatomy are very helpful, particularly for runner, athletes, and active professionals with buy schedules. All non-surgical approaches attempt to calm down the inflammation of the bursa and Achilles tendon. They do not address the bony bump, but they can substantially reduce and shrink the inflamed soft tissue. Some non-surgical treatments include Oral Anti-inflammatory Medications. NSAID's (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) such as Motrin, Aleve, and Steroids (like prednisone) may help control the pain and stop the inflammation. Topical Anti-inflammatory Medications. NSAID's in cream or lotion form may be applied directly to the inflamed area. With these, there is no concern for stomach upset or other problems associated with oral medication. Ice. Ice can applied be applied right to the red, inflamed area and help calm it down. Try applying a podiatrist-approved ice pack to the affected area for 20 minutes of each hour. Just make sure you don't put ice directly against the skin. Exercises. Stretching exercises may relieve some of the tension in the Achilles tendon that started the problem. If you have Equinus Deformity (or a tight heel cord) this is critical to prevent it from coming back again. Heel lifts. Heel lifts placed inside the shoe can decrease the pressure on the Achilles tendon. Remember, pressure and friction cause the bump to become inflamed. Heel pads. Placing gel padding to cushion the Achilles tendon (at the back of the heel) can also help reduce irritation from shoes. Shoe modification. Wearing open-backed shoes, or shoes that have soft backs. This will also help stop the irritation. Physical therapy. Physical therapy, such as ultrasound, massage and stretching can all reduce the inflammation without surgery. Orthotic devices. Custom arch supports known as foot orthotics control abnormal motion in the foot that can allow the heel to tilt over and rub against the heel counter. Orthotics can decrease symptoms and help prevent it from happening again. Immobilization. In some cases, a walking cast boot or plaster/fiberglass cast is necessary to take pressure off the bursa and tendon, while allowing the area to calm down. ESWT. Extra-corporeal Shock Wave Therapy uses high energy sound waves to break up diseased tissue in the bursa and Achilles tendon and stimulate your own bodies healing processes to repair the diseased area. It may be done in the office or in a an outpatient surgery center. There is no incision and no stitches with ESWT. PRP. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is a therapeutic injection. A small sample of blood is drawn from the patient and the healing factors found in the platelets are concentrated in a centrifuge. By injecting the concentrated solution right into the damaged Achilles tendon, a powerful healing can be stimulated. This can be done in the office. No hospital or surgery required.
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.