Retrocalcaneal and retroachilles bursitis are both common types of bursitis that can cause pain at the back of the foot, just above the heel. This pain, and often swelling, occurs when one or both bursae at the back of the heel become irritated and inflamed. Because they have similar symptoms, heel bursitis is sometimes confused with problems affecting the Achilles tendon, which is a long strip of fibrous tissue that connects the back of the heel to the calf muscle. Other times, Achilles tendon problems may bring about the bursitis. For example, tight calf muscles can contribute to chronic pulling where the Achilles tendon inserts into the back of the heel. This pulling can result in friction and irritation that eventually lead to bursitis.
The calcaneal bursa can become inflamed in patients with heel spurs or in patients with poor-fitting shoes (eg, high heels). Inflammation can occur secondarily from Achilles tendinitis, especially in young athletes. Patients exhibit tenderness to palpation of the bursa anterior to the Achilles tendon on both the medial and lateral aspects. They have pain with movement, which is worsened with dorsiflexion.
Pain when activating the Achilles tendon (running and jumping) and when applying pressure at the point of attachment of the tendon on the heel bone. Contrary to the tenderness occurring with inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the tenderness is localised to the point of attachment to the heel bone.
Like all other forms of bursitis, initially the physician will take down the history of symptoms experienced by the patient, this will be followed by a detailed physical examination which involves checking for inflammation signs like pain, redness, and warmth of the heel area. The physician might examine further by moving the ankle a little to determine the exact location of pain. Further diagnostic tests including x-ray, bone scans, and MRI scan might be suggested if required.
Non Surgical Treatment
According to the National Institutes of Health, custom heel wedges can be purchased by people suffering from retrocalcaneal bursitis. These wedges reduce stress on the heel, which can reduce the pain and inflammation associated with an inflamed bursa. They can be purchased without a prescription, making it easy for anyone experiencing a flare-up of symptoms to get the added support of these wedges.
Surgery. Though rare, particularly challenging cases of retrocalcaneal bursitis might warrant a bursectomy, in which the troublesome bursa is removed from the back of the ankle. Surgery can be effective, but operating on this boney area can cause complications, such as trouble with skin healing at the incision site. In addition to removing the bursa, a doctor may use the surgery to treat another condition associated with the retrocalcaneal bursitis. For example, a surgeon may remove a sliver of bone from the back of the heel to alter foot mechanics and reduce future friction. Any bone spurs located where the Achilles attaches to the heel may also be removed. Regardless of the conservative treatment that is provided, it is important to wait until all pain and swelling around the back of the heel is gone before resuming activities. This may take several weeks. Once symptoms are gone, a patient may make a gradual return to his or her activity level before their bursitis symptoms began. Returning to activities that cause friction or stress on the bursa before it is healed will likely cause bursitis symptoms to flare up again.