Bursitis is the inflammation of the small fluid-filled pads, or bursae, that act as cushions among your bones and the tendons and muscles near your joints. Bursitis occurs when the bursa become inflamed, and often occurs in joints that perform frequent and repetitive motion. The foot only contains one naturally occurring bursal sac between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone, which protects the Achilles from the pressure against the heel bone during ambulation. However, shoes may put pressure on this bursa. The bursa might also incur trauma from walking on hard ground. And, though they are not naturally occurring, bursa sacs can also form, and become inflamed, in other parts of the foot, including the bottom of the heel, and the metatarsal plate, the outside of the foot below the fifth toe, and so on.
The calcaneal bursa can become inflamed in patients with heel spurs or in patients with poor-fitting shoes (eg, high heels). Inflammation can occur secondarily from Achilles tendinitis, especially in young athletes. Patients exhibit tenderness to palpation of the bursa anterior to the Achilles tendon on both the medial and lateral aspects. They have pain with movement, which is worsened with dorsiflexion.
Posterior heel pain is the chief complaint in individuals with calcaneal bursitis. Patients may report limping caused by the posterior heel pain. Some individuals may also report an obvious swelling (eg, a pump bump, a term that presumably comes from the swelling's association with high-heeled shoes or pumps). The condition may be unilateral or bilateral. Symptoms are often worse when the patient first begins an activity after rest.
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
Your health care provider may recommend the following treatments. Avoid activities that cause pain. Ice the heel several times a day. Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (for example, ibuprofen). Try over-the-counter or custom heel wedges to help decrease the stress on the heel. Try ultrasound treatment during physical therapy to reduce inflammation. Use physical therapy to improve flexibility and strength around the ankle, which can help the bursitis improve and prevent it from coming back. If these treatments don't work, your health care provider may inject a small amount of steroids into the bursa. After the injection, you should avoid stretching the tendon too much because it can break open (rupture). If the condition is connected with Achilles tendinitis, casting the ankle for several weeks to keep it from moving can be effective. Very rarely, surgery may be needed to remove the inflamed bursa.
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.