Retrocalcaneal bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) at the back of the heel bone (calcaneus). The retrocalcaneal bursa is located between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone
and is designed to reduce friction between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone. During contraction of the calf muscle, tension is generated through the Achilles tendon and it rubs against the
retrocalcaneal bursa. When there is excessive friction due to repetitive rubbing of the tendon against the bursa or high impact force translating through the Achilles tendon, irritation and
inflammation of the bursa may occur. The inflammation can also be aggravated by pressure, such as when athletes wear tight-fitting shoes. This condition is often mistaken for Achilles tendinitis but
it can also occur in conjunction with Achilles tendinitis.
Improper foot wear, tight shoes or shoes that do not fit properly can cause extra pressure and friction on the back of the heel. Overtime, this pressure causes irritation of the bursae that protects
the Achilles tendon causing one or both to swell and become inflamed. Athletes who overtrain or runners that increase their distance to quickly are at greater risk of experiencing Achilles bursitis.
With over use, the Achilles bursae and tendon can become irritated and inflamed leading to thickening of the bursae lining and wearing of the tendon. Fluid builds in the bursa when it becomes
irritated causing swelling of the Achilles bursa and pain at the back of the heel.
Pain or tenderness at the back of the heel around the Achilles region. Increased pain during activities with strong, repetitive calf contractions, walking (uphill), stair climbing, running, jumping.
Pain may be worse with rest after activity (that night or the next morning) or at the beginning of the excercise. Pain when wearing shoes and the heel is getting rubbed. Bump forming on the back of
the heel. Limping. Stiffness. Decreased range of motion. Redness and warmth (if the bursa gets infected).
Your doctor will take a history to find out if you have the symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis. By examining your ankle, he or she can generally tell the location of the pain. The physician will
look for tenderness and redness in the back of the heel. The pain may be worse when the doctor bends the ankle upward (dorsiflex), as this may tighten the achilles tendon over the inflamed bursa.
Alternatively, the pain may be worse with toe rise, as this puts stress on the attachment of the achilles tendon to the heel bone. Imaging studies such as X-ray and MRI are not usually necessary at
first. If initial treatment fails to improve the symptoms, these studies may be obtained. MRI may show inflammation.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment is primarily comprised of relief from the painful activity (running). It is important that shoes do not pinch the heel. If satisfactory progress is not made during the rehabilitation,
medical treatment can be considered in the form of rheumatic medicine (NSAID) or injection of corticosteroid in the bursa. Injections should be performed under ultrasound guidance to ensure optimal
effect and reduce the risk of injecting into the Achilles itself. If progress is not made neither through rehabilitation nor medicinal treatment, surgical treatment can be attempted.
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
People can lower the risk of bursitis by gradually strengthening and stretching the muscles around the joints and taking regular breaks from repetitive motion that might irritate bursae. Prolonged
time resting on the elbows or kneeling should be avoided, if it cannot be avoided, wearing cushioned elbow and knee pads can help protect the bursae. Comfortable, supportive, low-heeled shoes can
help prevent bursitis in the foot.