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).
Improper foot wear, tight shoes or shoes that do not fit properly can cause extra pressure and friction on the back of the heel. Overtime, this pressure causes irritation of the bursae that protects the Achilles tendon causing one or both to swell and become inflamed. Athletes who overtrain or runners that increase their distance to quickly are at greater risk of experiencing Achilles bursitis. With over use, the Achilles bursae and tendon can become irritated and inflamed leading to thickening of the bursae lining and wearing of the tendon. Fluid builds in the bursa when it becomes irritated causing swelling of the Achilles bursa and pain at the back of the heel.
Patients with this condition typically experience pain at the back of the ankle and heel where the Achilles tendon attaches into the heel bone. Pain is typically experienced during activities requiring strong or repetitive calf contractions (often involving end of range ankle movements) such as walking (especially uphill), going up and down stairs, running, jumping or hopping (especially whilst wearing excessively tight shoes). Often pain may be worse with rest after these activities (especially that night or the following morning). The pain associated with this condition may 'warm up' with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Other symptoms may include tenderness on firmly touching the affected bursa and swelling around the Achilles region.
A good clinical practise includes evaluation of the tendon, bursa and calcaneum by, careful history, inspection of the region for bony prominence and local swelling as well as palpation of the area of maximal tenderness. Biomechanical abnormalities, joint stiffness and proximal soft tissue tightening can exacerbate an anatomical predisposition to retrocalcaneal bursitis, they warrant correction when present.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatments should involve decreasing swelling, relieving pain and stress on the Achilles, correcting any biomechanical dysfunction (over-pronation or flat feet), treating scar tissue, and then restoring strength and movement. If you are performing an activity that could cause further trauma to the bursa, it is recommended that you protect the area with padding and/or proper footwear to prevent further irritation or damage.
You can help to prevent heel pain and bursitis by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch of the foot and cushion the heel. If you are prone to plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon (heel cord) and plantar fascia may help to prevent the area from being injured again. You also can massage the soles of your feet with ice after stressful athletic activities. Sometimes, the only interventions needed are a brief period of rest and new walking or running shoes.