Between the heel bone and the plantar fascia is a small fluid filled sac that is called the plantar (bottom of) calcaneal (heel bone) bursa. The plantar calcaneal bursa?s job is to allow the plantar fascia to glide easily over the heel bone without irritation. If this becomes inflamed and irritated a plantar calcaneal bursitis occurs which can be extremely painful and disabling forcing the athlete to stop training.
A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion and a lubricant between tendons and muscles sliding over bone. There are bursas around most large joints in the body, including the ankle. The retrocalcaneal bursa is located in the back of the ankle by the heel, where the large Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone (calcaneus). Repetitive or over use of the ankle, for instance by doing excessive walking, running or jumping, can cause this bursa to become irritated and inflamed. This condition is commonly associated with Achilles tendonitis. Sometimes retrocalcaneal bursitis may be mistaken for achilles tendonitis. Those at risk for this condition include people just starting aggressive exercise regimens or having some other sudden increase in activity without proper conditioning.
Symptoms of Achilles bursitis are often mistaken for Achilles tendinitis because of the location of the pain at the back of the heel. When you suffer from Achilles bursitis you will experience some or all of the following symptoms which are most noticeable when you begin activity after resting. High heels can add pressure on the retrocalcaneal bursa, subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, and Achilles tendon.
During the physical examination of a patient with calcaneal bursitis, the physician should keep the following considerations in mind. Swelling and redness of the posterior heel (the pump bump) may be clearly apparent. The inflamed area, which may be slightly warm to the touch, is generally tender to palpation. Careful examination can help the clinician to distinguish whether the inflammation is posterior to the Achilles tendon (within the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa) or anterior to the tendon (within the subtendinous calcaneal bursa). Differentiating Achilles tendinitis/tendinosis from bursitis may be impossible. At times, the 2 conditions co-exist. Isolated subtendinous calcaneal bursitis is characterized by tenderness that is best isolated by palpating just anterior to the medial and lateral edges of the distal Achilles tendon. Conversely, insertional Achilles tendinitis is notable for tenderness that is located slightly more distally, where the Achilles tendon inserts on the posterior calcaneus. A patient with plantar fasciitis has tenderness along the posterior aspect of the sole, but he/she should not have tenderness with palpation of the posterior heel or ankle. A patient with a complete avulsion or rupture of the Achilles tendon demonstrates a palpable defect in the tendon, weakness in plantarflexion, and a positive Thompson test on physical examination. During the Thompson test, the examiner squeezes the calf. The test is negative if this maneuver results in passive plantarflexion of the ankle, which would indicate that the Achilles tendon is at least partially intact.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatments should involve decreasing swelling, relieving pain and stress on the Achilles, correcting any biomechanical dysfunction (over-pronation or flat feet), treating scar tissue, and then restoring strength and movement. If you are performing an activity that could cause further trauma to the bursa, it is recommended that you protect the area with padding and/or proper footwear to prevent further irritation or damage.
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.
Because many soft tissue conditions are caused by overuse, the best treatment is prevention. It is important to avoid or modify the activities that cause problems. Underlying conditions such as leg length differences, improper position or poor technique in sports or work must be corrected. Be aware of potential overuse or injury in your daily activities and change your lifestyle to prevent problems. Otherwise, problems may persist or occur repeatedly. Following are some ways you can avoid future problems. Wear walking or jogging shoes that provide good support. High-top shoes provide support for people with ankle problems. Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly. Wear heel cups or other shoe inserts as recommended by your doctor. Exercise on level, graded surfaces.