Retrocalcaneal bursitis is a painful inflammation of the soft tissues at the attachment of the Achilles tendon to the back of the heel bone. The retrocalcaneus identifies the ?retro? or behind and ?calcaneus? or heel bone. Bursitis relates to inflammation of a bursa in the retrocalcaneal region. A bursa anatomically is a fluid filled sack that is located around tendinous attachments in the body. The retrocalcaneal bursa as identified in the photo 1 protects the Achilles tendon just prior to its insertion to the retrocalcaneal region. The retrocalcaneal bursa cushions the Achilles tendon and normally allows pain free motion of the Achilles tendon over the calcaneus.
The most common causative organism is Staphylococcus aureus (80% of cases), followed by streptococci. However, many other organisms have been implicated in septic bursitis, including mycobacteria (both tuberculous and nontuberculous strains), fungi (Candida), and algae (Prototheca wickerhamii). Factors predisposing to infection include diabetes mellitus, steroid therapy, uremia, alcoholism, skin disease, and trauma. A history of noninfectious inflammation of the bursa also increases the risk of septic bursitis.
When the bursa becomes inflamed after an injury, symptoms usually develop suddenly. When the bursa develops without an injury, symptoms may develop gradually. With both posterior and anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, symptoms usually include swelling and warmth at the back of the heel. A minimally red, swollen, tender spot develops on the back of the heel. When the inflamed bursa enlarges, it appears as a red lump under the skin of the heel and causes pain at and above the heel. If posterior Achilles tendon bursitis becomes chronic, the swelling may become hard, fluid-filled, and red or flesh-colored.
Your GP or therapist will be able to diagnose you by both listening to your history and examining you. No X-rays or further investigation should be needed to confirm diagnosis but may be requested to check for any underlying health conditions that may have triggered the bursitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your GP may prescribe a short course of anti-inflammatory painkillers to reduce and control the painful inflammation that occurs and antibiotics in cases of septic bursitis. Applying a covered ice pack to the area after the initial injury may also significantly hasten the healing process by reducing the pain and swelling. Make sure the ice pack is covered to prevent any ice burn and for best results use the icepack regularly for 10-15 minutes with intervals of 30 minutes. Where possible it is advisable to avoid all aggravating movements and postures, however complete rest is not as this can lead to weakness and further shortening of the muscle. Massage and manipulative therapies can help loosen the surrounding muscles and tendons of the affected joint, reducing the pressure over the bursa and allowing it to heal faster. If the bursitis is chronic and not responding to treatment then your GP may refer you for a corticosteroid injection which will reduce the inflammation levels which will in turn reduce the pain levels experienced. Corticosteroid injections can have varied results. Surgery is a rare option when it comes to bursitis but occasionally it may be necessary for extremely chronic cases or to drain an infected bursa.
You can avoid the situation all together if you stop activity as soon as you see, and feel, the signs. Many runners attempt to push through pain, but ignoring symptoms only leads to more problems. It?s better to take some time off right away than to end up taking far more time off later. Runners aren?t the only ones at risk. The condition can happen to any type of athlete of any age. For all you women out there who love to wear high-heels-you?re at a greater risk as well. Plus, anyone whose shoes are too tight can end up with calcaneal bursitis, so make sure your footwear fits. If the outside of your heel and ankle hurts, calcaneal bursitis could be to blame. Get it checked out.