The calf muscle (M Gastrocnemicus) is comprised of two muscle heads which gather in a wide tendinous ligament and continue in to the Achilles tendon. Another of the larger calf muscles (M Soleus) is attached to the front side of the Achilles tendon and thus forms a part of the Achilles tendon. The Achilles is attached to the heel bone (calcaneus). At the heel bone there is a bursa in front of the Achilles anchor point (bursae tendinis Achilles), as well as behind (bursae subcutanea calcanei). The bursa reduce the pressure against the heel bone.
As ligaments and tendons stretch and tear, blood from ruptured blood vessels becomes trapped in the local tissues. As the trapped blood clots up, it sticks the tissues together creating adhesions. Adhesions cause pain, inflammation and restricted movement because the layers of tissue that used to slide smoothly across one another now adhere and snap which interferes with normal functioning. It is essential to break up clotted blood as quickly as possible to prevent adhesions and scar tissue from forming.
In retrocalcaneal bursitis, pain at the back of the heel is the main complaint from patients. Pain may worsen when tip-toeing, running uphill, jumping or hopping. Often, those who are accustomed to wearing high-heeled shoes on a long-term basis may also complain of pain at the back of the heel when switching to flat shoes. This is because when in high-heeled shoes, the calf muscle and the Achilles tendon are in a shortened position. Switching to flat shoes would cause an increased stretch to the calf muscle and Achilles tendon, irritating the Achilles tendon and the retrocalcaneal bursa. Other symptoms may include redness and swelling at the back of the heel.
Diagnosis of heel bursitis can be made by your health practitioner and is based on the following. Assessing the location of the pain by palpating the back of the heel. Assessment of any inflammation at the back of the heel. Assessment of biomechanics and foot function. Ultrasound or MRI can reveal inflammation of the retro calcaneal bursa.
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).
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.
Protect that part of the body that may be most vulnerable, If you have to kneel a lot, get some knee pads. Elbow braces can protect tennis and golf players. If you are an athlete or avid walker, invest in some good walking or running shoes. When doing repetitive tasks have breaks. Apart from taking regular breaks, try varying your movements so that you are using different parts of your body. Warm up before exercise. Before any type of vigorous exercise you should warm up for at least 5 to 10 minutes. The warm up could include walking at a good speed, slow jogging, or a cycling machine. Strong muscles add extra protection to the area. If you strengthen the muscles in the area where you had bursitis (after you are better), especially the area around the joint, you will have extra protection from injury. Make sure you do this well after your bursitis has gone completely.