Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that act as shock absorbers and cushions for our bones and tendons. There are two such sacs located on the back of your heel. The subtendinous calcaneal, also called retrocalcaneal bursa, is situated between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone (calcaneus). The subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, which is also referred to as the Achilles bursa, is found on the backside of the heel and Achilles. If either or both of these bursae become inflamed, the result is pain and tenderness.
There are several factors which can lead to a person developing retrocalcaneal bursitis. In athletes, especially runners, overtraining, sudden excessive increase in running mileage may lead to retrocalcaneal bursitis. Tight or ill-fitting shoes can be another causative factor as they can produce excessive pressure at the back of the heel due to restrictive heel counter. A person with an excessively prominent posterosuperior aspect of the heel bone (Haglund deformity) may also have a higher predisposition to retrocalcaneal bursitis. In such individuals, pain would be reproduced when the ankle goes into dorsiflexion.
Pain at the back of the heel, especially with jumping, hopping, tip-toeing, walking or running uphill or on soft surfaces. If tendonitis is also present, the pain can radiate away from the bursa. Direct pressure on the bursa will exacerbate the pain and should be avoided if possible. Tenderness and swelling which might make it difficult to wear certain shoes on the feet. As the bursa becomes more inflamed you will experience swelling and warmth. In severe cases, the bursa will appear as a bump, called a "pump bump", and is usually red, and extremely tender. Swelling can cause difficulties moving as the range of motion in the ankle can be affected. Limping due to the pain may occur. If you press on both sides of the inflamed heel, there may be a firm spongy feeling. Weakness in the tendons and muscles surrounding the bursa can develop as the pain worsens and the inflammation in the area spreads. Possibly a fever if you are suffering from septic bursitis (You will need to see a doctor for medication to get rid of the infection). Pain at the back of the heel makes it difficult to continue wearing shoes, especially high heels with straps or shoes that don't fit properly.
When you are experiencing Achilles pain at the back of your heel, a visit to the doctor is always recommended. Getting a proper diagnosis is important so you can treat your condition correctly. A doctor visit is always recommended.
Non Surgical Treatment
The underlying cause of the bursitis must be identified to prevent further reoccurrences. Failure to eliminate the cause will lead to future flare ups and a poor and slow recovery. Future occurrences can be prevented with the use of stretches and strengthening exercises which will help prevent the muscles from tightening up over the bursa, Pilates and yoga are very good for this providing the aggravating movements are avoided. Wearing joint supports such as knee pads or elbow supports may also reduce the likelihood of redeveloping bursitis.
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.