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.
The most common causes of bursitis are injury or overuse, although infection may also be a cause. Bursitis is also associated with other causes, such as arthritis, gout, tendinitis, diabetes, and thyroid disease.
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.
When you suspect you have retrocalcaneal bursitis, your foot doctor will begin by taking a complete history of the condition. A physical exam will also be performed. X-rays are usually taken on the first visit as well to determine the shape of the heel bone, joint alignment in the rearfoot, and to look for calcium deposits in the Achilles tendon. The history, exam and x-rays may sufficient for your foot surgeon to get an idea of the treatment that will be required. In some cases, it may be necessary to get an ultrasound or MRI to further evaluate the Achilles tendon or its associated bursa. While calcium deposits can show up on xray, the inflammation in the tendon and bursa will show up much better on ultrasound and MRI. The results of these tests can usually be explained on the first visit. You can then have a full understanding of how the problem started, what you can do to treat prevent it from getting worse/ You will also know which treatment will be most helpful in making your heel pain go away.
Non Surgical Treatment
Rest and apply cold therapy or ice. Ice should not be applied directly to the skin as it may cause ice burns but wrap in a wet tea towel. Commercially available hot and cold packs are often more convenience than using ice. Taping the bursa with a donut shaped pad to take some of the pressure from footwear may help. A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication e.g. ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation. Applying electrotherapy such as ultrasound may reduce inflammation and swelling. A steroid injection followed by 48 hours rest may be given for persistent cases. If the bursitis is particularly bad and does not respond to conservative treatment then surgery is also an option.
Bursectomy is a surgical procedure used to remove an inflamed or infected bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between tissues of the body. Because retrocalcaneal bursitis can cause chronic inflammation, pain and discomfort, bursectomy may be used as a treatment for the condition when it is persistent and cannot be relived with other treatments. During this procedure, a surgeon makes small incisions so that a camera may be inserted into the joint. This camera is called an arthroscope. Another small incision is made so that surgical instruments can be inserted to remove the inflamed bursa.