Whenever tissues rub against one another, a bursa forms to allow for smooth gliding. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac and occurs normally throughout the body. Only a few cell layers thick, a bursa is filled with a lubricating fluid. However, when irritated, a bursa can become markedly thickened and painful. This is often referred to as bursitis. The retrocalcaneal bursa is positioned to allow the Achilles tendon to glide over the back part (posterior aspect) of the heel bone. When this bone becomes enlarged, inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa occurs. This inflammation results in exquisite tenderness along the posterior aspect of the heel.
Bursitis has many causes, including autoimmune disorders, crystal deposition (gout and pseudogout), infectious diseases, traumatic events, and hemorrhagic disorders, as well as being secondary to overuse. Repetitive injury within the bursa results in local vasodilatation and increased vascular permeability, which stimulate the inflammatory cascade.
Pain and tenderness are common symptoms. If the affected joint is close to the skin, as with the shoulder, knee, elbow, or Achilles tendon, swelling and redness are seen and the area may feel warm to the touch. The bursae around the hip joint are deeper, and swelling is not obvious. Movement may be limited and is painful. In the shoulder, it may be difficult to raise the arm out from the side of the body. Putting on a jacket or combing the hair becomes a troublesome activity. In acute bursitis symptoms appear suddenly, with chronic bursitis, pain, tenderness, and limited movement reappear after exercise or strain.
Carrying out a diagnosis for bursitis is fairly straightforward. The doctor will examine the affected area and ask the patient some questions about his/her recent activities. If the patient has a high temperature the physician may take a small sample of fluid from a bursa near the affected body part. The sample will be tested for bacteria, and perhaps also crystals. If the patient does not get better after treatment the doctor may carry out further tests so that he/she can eliminate the possibility that the symptoms might not be due to something else. These may include an x-ray, to make sure no bones are broken or fractured. Blood tests, to check for rheumatoid arthritis. A CT scan or MRI scan to see if there is a torn tendon.
Non Surgical Treatment
Orthotics may assist heel bursitis by providing stability to the heel, reduce any foot functioning abnormalities and provide extra support for the feet. The orthotic achieves this by maintaining correct foot posture, therefore facilitating normal functioning of the Achilles tendon. Icing the back of the heel post activity for temporary relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can reduce inflammation of the bursa. Stretching of the calf muscle may reduce the pulling on the heel by the Achilles tendon. Shoes that have an elevated heel may reduce pulling on the heel from the Achilles tendon. Resting the painful heel may reduce inflammation and pain. Surgical removal of the painful bursa is a last resort treatment when all other treatments have failed.
Surgery to remove the damaged bursa may be performed in extreme cases. If the bursitis is caused by an infection, then additional treatment is needed. Septic bursitis is caused by the presence of a pus-forming organism, usually staphylococcus aureus. This is confirmed by examining a sample of the fluid in the bursa and requires treatment with antibiotics taken by mouth, injected into a muscle or into a vein (intravenously). The bursa will also need to be drained by needle two or three times over the first week of treatment. When a patient has such a serious infection, there may be underlying causes. There could be undiscovered diabetes, or an inefficient immune system caused by human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV).
Continue to wear your orthotics for work and exercise to provide stability and restore foot function. Select suitable shoes for work and physical activity that provide stability for the heel. Regular stretching of the calf muscle can prevent heel bursitis. Do not suddenly increase activity amount without appropriate conditioning.