A bursa is a closed, fluid-filled sac that functions as a cushion and gliding surface to reduce friction between tissues of the body. The major bursae are located adjacent to the tendons near the large joints, such as in the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees. When the bursa becomes inflamed, the condition is known as bursitis. Bursitis is usually a temporary condition. It may restrain motion, but generally does not cause deformity.
If the posterior-superior portion of the heel has an abnormally large bony prominence protruding from it (called a Haglund's Deformity), in some instances it may rub against the Achilles Tendon. When this occurs, the bursa between the bone and the tendon will become inflamed, swollen, and painful. This condition is called Retrocalcaneal Bursitis. The presence of a Haglund's Deformity does not insure that these problems will occur. In order for these problems to occur, the heel and foot must be tilted in such a way as to actually force this bony prominence into the bursa and tendon.
Symptoms of bursitis usually occur after rest and relaxation. Upon activity there is usually more intense pain in the area of the bursa. The common areas to have a bursitis in the foot are in the bottom of the heel, behind the heel near the attachment of the Achilles Tendon as well as along the side of a bunion. A bursa may also form in multiple areas especially along the metatarsal heads, or "ball" of your foot. You may actually feel the sac like fluid when rubbing the area of pain.
A good clinical practise includes evaluation of the tendon, bursa and calcaneum by, careful history, inspection of the region for bony prominence and local swelling as well as palpation of the area of maximal tenderness. Biomechanical abnormalities, joint stiffness and proximal soft tissue tightening can exacerbate an anatomical predisposition to retrocalcaneal bursitis, they warrant correction when present.
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.
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.