The most common bursa to be inflamed in the foot is the retrocalcaneal bursa (also referred to as the subtendinous calcaneal bursa). Located between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone (calcaneus), this is a “true” bursa that is present from birth. It acts as a cushion to protect the Achilles tendon from friction against the heel bone. Also commonly affected, the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa (also referred to as the Achilles bursa), located between the Achilles tendon and the skin, sits a little lower down the ankle towards the heel than the retrocalcaneal bursa. This bursa develops as you age, an “adventitious” bursa, to protect the tendon from friction at the back of the heel.
A rapid increase in physical activity levels or thinning of the heel?s protective fat pad are factors that may contribute to infracalcaneal bursitis. Other possible causes of infracalcaneal bursitis include blunt force trauma, acute or chronic infection, and arthritic conditions. The following factors may increase your risk of experiencing bursitis, including infracalcaneal bursitis. Participating in contact sports. Having a previous history of bursitis in any joint. Poor conditioning. Exposure to cold weather. Heel striking when running, especially in conventional running shoes with heel elevation.
Medical experts strongly recommend that you consult a doctor if you have any of the symptoms below. Disabling joint pain that prevents you from doing your daily activities. Pain that lasts for more than two weeks. Excessive swelling, redness, bruising or a rash around the painful joint. Sharp or shooting pain, especially when you exercise or do something more strenuous. A fever. Any of the above could be a sign of infection, a condition such as arthritis or a more serious injury such as a tendon tear that may require medical attention.
Medical examination is not necessarily required in light cases where the tenderness is minimal. In all cases where smooth improvement is not experienced, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible to exclude a (partial) rupture of the Achilles tendon or rupture of the soleus muscle. This situation is best determined by use of ultrasound scanning, as a number of injuries requiring treatment can easily be overlooked during a clinical examination (Ultrasonic image). Ultrasound scanning enables an evaluation of the extent of the change in the tendon, inflammation of the tendon (tendinitis), development of cicatricial tissue (tendinosis), calcification, inflammation of the tissue surrounding the tendon (peritendinitis), inflammation of the bursa (bursitis), as well as (partial) rupture.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are a variety of treatments for bursitis of the heel. Bursitis on the bottom of your heel (which is called infracalcaneal bursitis) is common in heels with thinning fat pads. Gel heel cushions or custom made orthotics (that have a horse-shoe cut and extra foam in the heel) can be lifesavers in reducing the pain. For bursitis of the posterior heel (retrocalcaneal bursitis), try to avoid going barefoot and to reduce the stress on the Achilles tendon by not over flexing your heel, the tighter your Achilles becomes, the more you compress the bursa sacs of the posterior heel. Heel lifts can help this, or wearing shoes with elevated heels (note that this method is not sanctioning high heels, as high heels can provide little comfort or support and usually are tight in the areas where your bursitis is most inflamed). Products such as AirHeel made by Aircast can help massage the bottom and back of the heel, helping to decrease pain.
Contact your physician if bursitis pain is disabling (when movement of the joint is largely or entirely restricted), if the pain doesn?t subside after a week of self-care, or if the joint is red and swollen. Also call your doctor if you develop a fever, which could signal infectious bursitis-a condition that especially can afflict the elbow. Except for the fever, symptoms resemble other forms of bursitis, but infectious bursitis requires immediate medical attention.