A bursa is a fluid-filled sac. There are hundreds of deep and superficial bursae throughout the human body. They are typically located near major joints. Bursae are situated between bone and soft tissues like tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin. They serve as a cushioning pad to absorb shock. The fluid within the sac is secreted to assist with friction-free movement as the soft tissues move across a bony area.
The swelling is the result of the blockage of blood, tissue fluids and circulation in the heel because their normal movement has been disrupted by the force of the injury. Just like cars back up behind a traffic jam, causing congestion, exhaust and overheating, blood and fluids back up behind the injured heel, causing pain, inflammation, lumps and swelling.
Pain when activating the Achilles tendon (running and jumping) and when applying pressure at the point of attachment of the tendon on the heel bone. Contrary to the tenderness occurring with inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the tenderness is localised to the point of attachment to the heel bone.
To begin with, your doctor will gather a medical history about you and your current condition and symptoms. He/she will inquire about the level of your heel pain, the how long you have had the symptoms and the limitations you are experiencing. Details about what and when the pain started, all are very helpful in providing you with a diagnoses of your ankle / heel.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment consists of anti-inflammatory therapy with the use of ice, short term non steroidal therapy including ibuprofen and naproxen and selective use of cortisone injections. Cortisone injections have been shown to be a highly effective anti-inflammatory measure for relieving foot and ankle pain. Care must always be taken by the physician to insure that the injection is administered into the bursal sac and not the Achilles tendon which can cause tendon injury. Treatment also consists of the use of heel lifts or the temporary use of a shoe with a low heel. The heel lift decreases the mechanical load on the Achilles tendon. Gentle stretching of the Achilles tendon, the possible use of a splint that is worn at night as well as physical therapy as directed by your physician can be employed. Temporary activity limitations for fitness must be incorporated into the treatment plan. Any weight bearing activity for exercise that actively lifts your heel off of the ground including running, walking stair stepper will interfere with effective conservative care. Low impact activity including biking and pool tend to be safe exercises during your recovery.
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.
You can help to prevent heel pain and bursitis by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch of the foot and cushion the heel. If you are prone to plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon (heel cord) and plantar fascia may help to prevent the area from being injured again. You also can massage the soles of your feet with ice after stressful athletic activities. Sometimes, the only interventions needed are a brief period of rest and new walking or running shoes.