Bursitis Of The Feet

Overview


Retrocalcaneal bursitis is a condition characterized by tissue damage and inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa (a small fluid filled sac located at the back of the heel) causing pain in the heel region. A bursa is a thin fluid filled sac found in various places throughout the body. Bursae are designed to reduce friction between adjacent layers of tissue and are filled with lubricating fluid. They are typically located in regions of the body where tissue layers may rub against each other or against bony prominences The muscle group at the back of the lower leg is commonly called the calf. The calf comprises of 2 major muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) both of which insert into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. Between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone lies a bursa known as the retrocalcaneal bursa.


Causes


For the most part, it is a genetic condition. You develop it by inheriting a foot type that is prone to the mechanical irritation that leads to the problem. If you have this particular foot type and wear shoes that rub and irritate the back of the heel bone (calcaneus) where the Achilles tendon attaches, then you are even more likely to develop this type of bursitis. The contributing factors include a supinated foot type, a heel bone with a prominence (or pointed shape that stick out toward the tendon) at the back, a tight Achilles tendon (referred to as Equinus by doctors), and a high arch. All of these factors simply make it more likely that the back of the heel will press against the shoe and rub. As the tendon gets rubbed the wrong way, the bursa starts to develop and fill with fluid. This response is really your body's way of protecting the tendon from damage, but it backfires. The friction from all that rubbing causes the bursa to become inflamed and swell. This causes the bump to become red, hot and stick out even further. Much like a sore thumb, it then gets irritated by even the softest shoes.


Symptoms


Below is a list of common signs and symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis. Recognizing and treating symptoms early can prevent retrocalcaneal bursitis from becoming chronic. Swelling. The retrocalcaneal bursa is located behind the Achilles tendon, just above where the tendon attaches to the heel bone. When the bursa is inflamed it will cause visible soft tissue swelling near the top of the heel bone. It is worth noting that bursitis of the retroachilles bursa, which is located between the Achilles tendon and skin, can manifest slightly differently: swelling may be more distinct, appearing as a hard lump behind the heel. Retroachilles bursitis is also more likely than retrocalcaneal bursitis to cause the skin at the back of the heel to turn red.


Diagnosis


The diagnosis is based on the symptoms and an examination. For anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, doctors use x-rays to rule out a fracture of the heel bone or damage to the heel bone caused by rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory arthritis.


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.


Surgical Treatment


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.


Prevention


You may be able to prevent bursitis from happening or coming back. Continue your home treatment with rest, ice, pain relievers, and gentle exercises. When you are ready to try the activity that caused the pain, start slowly and do it for short periods or at a slower speed. Warm up before and stretch after the activity. Increase your activity slowly, and stop if it hurts. Use ice afterward to prevent pain and swelling. Change the way you do activities with repeated movements that may strain your muscles or joints. For example if using a certain tool has caused bursitis, start switching hands or change the grip size of your tool. If sitting for long periods has caused bursitis, get up and walk around every hour. If a certain sport is causing bursitis, consider taking lessons to learn proper techniques. Have an expert check your equipment to make sure it's well suited to your size, strength, and ability. If certain activities at work may be causing bursitis, talk to your human resources department about other ways of doing your job, equipment changes, or other job assignments. Protect your joints from pressure. Cushion knees or elbows on hard surfaces, and wear shoes that fit you well and have good support.

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