Retrocalcaneal bursitis is sometimes difficult to differentiate from Achilles tendinitis, at least symptomatically. Both are most uncomfortable during the push-off phase of gait, are most severely painful in the morning and with walking after sitting for a period of time, and generally worsen with activity. Most practitioners make the distinction between the two simply on the basis of location of pain and tenderness. Generally, Achilles tendinitis is felt an inch or two higher than this form of bursitis.
Occasionally the bursal sac can become inflamed and painful. Pain to the region is worse typically with initial weight bearing activity such as rising from bed in the morning. Swelling and warmth to the region are common. Clinical examination shows pain to palpation at the retrocalcaneus at a level just before the Achilles tendon. Increase pressure and friction of the Achilles tendon across the retrocalcaneal region is the cause of this bursitis. A high arch, tight Achilles tendon or bone spur appear to be some of the main causes of this problem. With a high arch the back portion of the calcaneus abnormally projects into the Achilles tendon region.
Pain at the back of the heel at the attachment site of the Achilles tendon when running. Pain on palpation of the back of the heel or bottom of heel. Pain when standing on tiptoes. Swelling and redness at the back and bottom of the heel.
When a patient has pain in a joint, a careful physical examination is needed to determine what type of movement is affected and if there is any swelling present. Bursitis will not show up on x-rays, although sometimes there are also calcium deposits in the joint that can be seen. Inserting a thin needle into the affected bursa and removing (aspirating) some of the synovial fluid for examination can confirm the diagnosis. In most cases, the fluid will not be clear. It can be tested for the presence of microorganisms, which would indicate an infection, and crystals, which could indicate gout. In instances where the diagnosis is difficult, a local anesthetic (a drug that numbs the area) is injected into the painful spot. If the discomfort stops temporarily, then bursitis is probably the correct diagnosis.
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.
Surgery is rarely done strictly for treatment of a bursitis. If any underlying cause is the reason, this may be addressed surgically. During surgery for other conditions, a bursa may be seen and removed surgically.