Achilles tendon bursitis occurs mainly in young women but can develop in men. Walking in a way that repeatedly presses the soft tissue behind the heel against the stiff back support of a shoe can cause or aggravate the bursitis. Shoes that taper sharply inward toward the posterior heel (such as high-heeled shoes) can cause irritating pressure that leads to the development of this bursitis. Normally, only one bursa is in the heel, between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone (calcaneus). This bursa may become inflamed, swollen, and painful, resulting in anterior Achilles tendon bursitis. Abnormal pressure and foot dysfunction can cause a protective bursa to form between the Achilles tendon and the skin. This bursa may also become inflamed, swollen, and painful, resulting in posterior Achilles tendon bursitis. Any condition that puts extra strain on the Achilles tendon can cause anterior Achilles tendon bursitis. Injuries to the heel and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis can also cause it.
The most common cause for bursitis in the heel is overuse. If you repeatedly use your ankle, the bursa becomes irritated, causing swelling and inflammation. This is usually seen in individuals who do too much walking or running. The risk for developing this condition worsens if you suddenly start an intensive workout routine without conditioning your body to become used to the intensity.
The signs and symptoms of heel bursitis can include heel pain wearing particular footwear, Pain or discomfort in the heel when walking, jogging or running, Swelling or inflammation in the heel.
Your doctor will examine you, including an evaluation of your gait, while you are barefoot, your doctor will ask you to stand still and to walk in order to evaluate how your foot moves as you walk. An examination of your feet. Your doctor may compare your feet for any differences between them. Then your doctor may examine your painful foot for signs of tenderness, swelling, discoloration, muscle weakness and decreased range of motion. A neurological examination. The nerves and muscles may be evaluated by checking strength, sensation and reflexes. In addition to examining you, your health care professional may want to examine your shoes. Signs of excessive wear in certain parts of a shoe can provide valuable clues to problems in the way you walk and poor bone alignment. Depending on the results of your physical examination, you may need foot X-rays or other diagnostic tests.
Non Surgical Treatment
In addition to being aware of foot-wear and inserts, be sure to modify your activity level to reduce the pain initially. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and icing twice a day for 20 minute periods can help reduce the swell that leads to heel pain. Cortisone injections (more powerful anti-inflammatory medications) can be considered if your symptoms are persistent. After the swelling and pain has receded, ask your podiatrist about working with a physical therapist to strengthen the affected area in order to avoid bursitis by using your muscles in a more safe and efficient manner. If all these treatment methods fail, surgery may be the best option to excise a painful bursa (note that this is in rare cases).
Surgery. Though rare, particularly challenging cases of retrocalcaneal bursitis might warrant a bursectomy, in which the troublesome bursa is removed from the back of the ankle. Surgery can be effective, but operating on this boney area can cause complications, such as trouble with skin healing at the incision site. In addition to removing the bursa, a doctor may use the surgery to treat another condition associated with the retrocalcaneal bursitis. For example, a surgeon may remove a sliver of bone from the back of the heel to alter foot mechanics and reduce future friction. Any bone spurs located where the Achilles attaches to the heel may also be removed. Regardless of the conservative treatment that is provided, it is important to wait until all pain and swelling around the back of the heel is gone before resuming activities. This may take several weeks. Once symptoms are gone, a patient may make a gradual return to his or her activity level before their bursitis symptoms began. Returning to activities that cause friction or stress on the bursa before it is healed will likely cause bursitis symptoms to flare up again.