A bursa is a fluid-filled sac. There are hundreds of deep and superficial bursae throughout the human body. They are typically located near major joints. Bursae are situated between bone and soft tissues like tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin. They serve as a cushioning pad to absorb shock. The fluid within the sac is secreted to assist with friction-free movement as the soft tissues move across a bony area.
Occasionally the bursal sac can become inflamed and painful. Pain to the region is worse typically with initial weight bearing activity such as rising from bed in the morning. Swelling and warmth to the region are common. Clinical examination shows pain to palpation at the retrocalcaneus at a level just before the Achilles tendon. Increase pressure and friction of the Achilles tendon across the retrocalcaneal region is the cause of this bursitis. A high arch, tight Achilles tendon or bone spur appear to be some of the main causes of this problem. With a high arch the back portion of the calcaneus abnormally projects into the Achilles tendon region.
Common signs and symptoms associated with infracalcaneal bursitis include redness under the heel. Pain and swelling under the heel. Pain or ache in the middle part of the underside of the heel. Heel pain or discomfort that increases with prolonged weight-bearing activities.
Plain radiographs of the calcaneus may reveal a Haglund deformity (increased prominence of the posterosuperior aspect of the calcaneus). However, on weight-bearing lateral radiographs, the retrocalcaneal recess often appears normal even in patients with retrocalcaneal bursitis, limiting its usefulness in making this diagnosis.Radiographs may be used as a diagnostic measure to support a clinician?s diagnosis of retrocalcaneal bursitis. Individuals with retrocalcaneal bursitis may have an absence of the normal radiolucency (ie, blunting) that is seen in the posteroinferior corner of the Kager fat pad, known as the retrocalcaneal recess or bursal wedge. This may occur with or without an associated erosion of the calcaneus.
Non Surgical Treatment
With posterior Achilles tendon bursitis, treatment is aimed at reducing the inflammation and adjusting the foot's position in the shoe to relieve pressure and motion on the back of the heel. Foam rubber or felt heel pads can be placed in the shoe to eliminate pressure by elevating the heel. Placing protective gel padding over the painful bursa or stretching the back part of the shoe and placing padding around the inflamed bursa may help. Sometimes a special shoe, such as a running shoe designed to stabilize the midsole heel, devices placed in the shoe (orthoses), or both can help to control abnormal foot and heel motion contributing to the posterior heel irritation. Other shoes have padding that reduces irritation to the posterior heel and Achilles tendon.
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.