Retrocalcaneal bursitis is sometimes difficult to differentiate from Achilles tendinitis, at least symptomatically. Both are most uncomfortable during the push-off phase of gait, are most severely
painful in the morning and with walking after sitting for a period of time, and generally worsen with activity. Most practitioners make the distinction between the two simply on the basis of location
of pain and tenderness. Generally, Achilles tendinitis is felt an inch or two higher than this form of bursitis.
Pain at the posterior heel or ankle is most commonly caused by pathology at either the posterior calcaneus (at the calcaneal insertion site of the Achilles tendon) or at its associated bursae. Two
bursae are located just superior to the insertion of the Achilles (calcaneal) tendon. Anterior or deep to the tendon is the retrocalcaneal (subtendinous) bursa, which is located between the Achilles
tendon and the calcaneus. Posterior or superficial to the Achilles tendon is the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, also called the Achilles bursa. This bursa is located between the skin and posterior
aspect of the distal Achilles tendon. Inflammation of either or both of these bursa can cause pain at the posterior heel and ankle region.
What are the symptoms of heel bursitis? pain, swelling, tenderness, redness, and/or warmth at either the bottom of the heel or top of the heel, depending on the degree of swelling, pain may be a dull
ache or substantial enough to cause limping, running, jumping, and walking activities may exacerbate pain, wearing poorly fitting, tight, or high-heeled shoes may exacerbate pain.
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
In addition to R.I.C.E., there are a number of other treatments to reduce swelling and any associated pain or discomfort due to heel bursitis. Orthotics or change of footwear. Wearing an orthotic
device such as a heel insert can encourage better mechanics in the foot and reduce irritation of the retrocalcaneal bursa. Some people do not need special orthotics but simply need to stop wearing
shoes with rigid heel and ankle construction and instead wear more supportive, comfortable shoes. Shoes with an "Achilles notch," a groove in the collar at the back of the shoe to protect the
Achilles tendon, can be particularly helpful. (Almost all running shoes are designed with an Achilles notch.) Stretching and physical therapy. Stretching the Achilles tendon often helps alleviate
pain. Once the pain is resolved it is important for the patient to continue a regular stretching program. Regular stretching reduces the chance of recurrence.
Only if non-surgical attempts at treatment fail, will it make sense to consider surgery. Surgery for retrocalcanel bursitis can include many different procedures. Some of these include removal of the
bursa, removing any excess bone at the back of the heel (calcaneal exostectomy), and occasionally detachment and re-attachment of the Achilles tendon. If the foot structure and shape of the heel bone
is a primary cause of the bursitis, surgery to re-align the heel bone (calcaneal osteotomy) may be considered. Regardless of which exact surgery is planned, the goal is always to decrease pain and
correct the deformity. The idea is to get you back to the activities that you really enjoy. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the exact surgical procedure that is most likely to correct the
problem in your case. But if you have to have surgery, you can work together to develop a plan that will help assure success.
After taking a history and performing a physical examination, your physician may order x-rays to rule out other disorders. Your doctor may administer injections of corticosteroids and a local
anesthetic to reduce swelling and ease pain. Also, to reduce swelling, your physician may draw excess fluid from the bursa with a syringe and then tightly wrap and compress the joint with an elastic
bandage. In severe, persistent cases surgery to remove the bursa may be necessary. For infectious bursitis, antibiotics will be prescribed.