A properly functioning heel is essential to normal, smooth, and painless gait. The heel is the first area to strike the ground during normal gait, which means it takes the brunt of the stress incurred during walking and running activities. Of course, this also means that the heel is highly prone to injury. One such injury is called heel bursitis.
Overtraining in an athlete. Tight or poorly fitting shoes that produce excessive pressure at the posterior heel. Haglund deformity. Altered joint axis. Inflammation of the calcaneal bursae is most commonly caused by repetitive (cumulative) trauma or overuse, and the condition is aggravated by pressure, such as when athletes wear tight-fitting shoes. Retrocalcaneal bursitis may also be associated with conditions such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and seronegative spondyloarthropathies. In some cases, retrocalcaneal bursitis may be caused by bursal impingement between the Achilles tendon and an excessively prominent posterosuperior aspect of the calcaneus (Haglund deformity). In Haglund disease, impingement occurs during ankle dorsiflexion.
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.
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
According to the National Institutes of Health, custom heel wedges can be purchased by people suffering from retrocalcaneal bursitis. These wedges reduce stress on the heel, which can reduce the pain and inflammation associated with an inflamed bursa. They can be purchased without a prescription, making it easy for anyone experiencing a flare-up of symptoms to get the added support of these wedges.
Surgery is rarely need to treat most of these conditions. A patient with a soft tissue rheumatic syndrome may need surgery, however, if problems persist and other treatment methods do not help symptoms.
Continue to wear your orthotics for work and exercise to provide stability and restore foot function. Select suitable shoes for work and physical activity that provide stability for the heel. Regular stretching of the calf muscle can prevent heel bursitis. Do not suddenly increase activity amount without appropriate conditioning.