Bursitis is an inflammation of a bursa. The heel has three areas that are involved in bursitis. Retrocalcaneal Bursa which is located between the Achilles tendon and heel bone. Subcutaneous calcaneal bursa which is located between the skin and where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone. Plantar-calcaneal bursitis is located between the heel bone and the plantar fascia (thick fibrous tissue that inserts into the heel bone).
Although rare, bursitis also may be caused by an infection, known as septic bursitis. This is a serious medical condition that requires antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent its spread to other points in the body or the bloodstream. Septic bursitis may cause the back of the ankle to become red or hot. The person may also get the chills or fever and may feel sick and tired. Typically this type of bursitis would be suspected if there has been any history of an open wound in the area, such as a blister.
Symptoms include pain at the back of the heel, especially when running uphill or on soft surfaces. There will be tenderness and swelling at the back of the heel which may make it difficult to wear certain shoes. When pressing in with the fingers both sides are the back of the heel a spongy resistance may be felt.
Careful examination by your physician or physiotherapist can determine if the inflammation is from the Achilles tendon or from the retrocalcaneal bursa. Tenderness due to insertional Achilles tendinitis is normally located slightly more distal where the tendon inserts into the back of the heel, whereas tenderness caused by the retrocalcaneal bursa is normally palpable at the sides of the distal Achilles tendon. Diagnosis can be confirmed with an ultrasound investigation, MRI or CT scan.
Non Surgical Treatment
Gradual and progressive stretching of the Achilles tendon. Exercises to strengthen and support the ankle. Rest or reduced weight bearing activities. Immobilisation in a cast for 4-6 weeks for severe cases. Ice. Proper fitting and supportive footwear. Massage. Joint mobilisation. Anti-inflammatory medications: only if this does not have adverse results with the patient's current medication. Heel pads and heel lifts. Footwear Advice. Strapping and padding Orthoses/innersoles. The orthotics prescribed and designed by the podiatrists at the Heel and Arch Pain Clinic (affiliated with Beyond Podiatry) are made to align the foot in the correct posture. Surgery is indicated in severe cases when conservative treatment has not resolved the problem.
Surgery is rarely done strictly for treatment of a bursitis. If any underlying cause is the reason, this may be addressed surgically. During surgery for other conditions, a bursa may be seen and removed surgically.