In the foot we have a unique situation in that between the shoes that we wear and the ground that we walk on various parts of the foot are constantly being ?micro? traumatized meaning that every time we take a step we do a small amount of damage to a particular part of the foot and eventually that part of the foot begins to hurt. The body?s response to this micro-trauma is to create a bursal sac to initially protect the area but if micro-traumatized enough the bursal sac itself becomes inflamed and we have a bursitis.
A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion and a lubricant between tendons and muscles sliding over bone. There are bursas around most large joints in the body, including the ankle. The retrocalcaneal bursa is located in the back of the ankle by the heel, where the large Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone (calcaneus). Repetitive or over use of the ankle, for instance by doing excessive walking, running or jumping, can cause this bursa to become irritated and inflamed. This condition is commonly associated with Achilles tendonitis. Sometimes retrocalcaneal bursitis may be mistaken for achilles tendonitis. Those at risk for this condition include people just starting aggressive exercise regimens or having some other sudden increase in activity without proper conditioning.
A person with bursitis can have one or more of the symptoms below. Pain, the pain increases with movement or pressure. Tenderness is felt even without movement. Swelling. Loss of movement. If the bursitis is caused by an infection it is called Septic Bursitis. The patient with septic bursitis may have the following additional symptoms. Fever. The affected area is red. The affected area feels hot when touched.
The doctor will discuss your symptoms and visually assess the bones and soft tissue in your foot. If a soft tissue injury is suspected, an MRI will likely be done to view where and how much the damage is in your ankle. An x-ray may be recommended to rule out a bone spur or other foreign body as the cause of your ankle pain. As the subcutaneous bursa is close to the surface of the skin, it is more susceptible to septic, or infectious, bursitis caused by a cut or scrape at the back of the heel. Septic bursitis required antibiotics to get rid of the infection. Your doctor will be able to determine whether there is an infection or not by drawing a small sample of the bursa fluid with a needle.
Non Surgical Treatment
Caregivers may give you special shoe inserts with a cutout around the tender area. You may also be told to wear shoes with a reinforced heel counter. This will give better heel control. You may need other shoe inserts (wedges) to raise your heel so it does not press against the back of the shoe. You may also wear shoes that are open in the back, such as sandals that have no strap across the heel. You may use ibuprofen (eye-bu-PROH-fen) and acetaminophen (a-seet-a-MIN-oh-fen) medicine for your pain. These may be bought over-the-counter at drug or grocery stores. Do not take ibuprofen if you are allergic to aspirin. You may be given shots of medicine called steroids (STER-oids) to decrease inflammation. Caregivers may add local anesthesia (an-es-THEE-zah) to the steroids. This medicine helps decrease bursitis pain. Because these shots decrease swelling and pain, you may feel like your ankle is healed and that you can return to heavy exercise. It is important to not exercise until your caregiver says it is OK. You could make the bursitis worse if you exercise too soon. You may need surgery to remove the bursa or part of your ankle bone. Surgery is usually not necessary unless the bursitis is very bad and does not heal with other treatments. Your caregiver may want you to go to physical (FIZ-i-kal) therapy (THER-ah-pee). Physical therapists may use ultrasound to increase blood flow to the injured area. Caregivers may use massage to stretch the tissue and bring heat to the injury to increase blood flow. These and other treatments may help the bursitis heal faster. Exercises to stretch your Achilles tendon and make it stronger will be started after the bursitis has healed. You may gradually increase the amount of weight you put on your foot when caregivers say it is OK. You may be told to stop exercising if you feel any pain.
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.