A lesser known type of heel pain is a condition called Bursitis of the Heel. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the muscles, tendons and bones in our joints. It helps keep them from rubbing against each other and reduces friction in the areas around the joints. Bursitis is Latin for inflammation of the bursa. Repeated movement and pressure on the bursa can cause it to swell and become inflamed. Trauma, infection or crystal deposits can also cause Bursitis. The joints that are usually affected by bursitis are the large joints such as the shoulder, hip and knee but in some cases also the back of the heel.
Bursitis has many causes, including autoimmune disorders, crystal deposition (gout and pseudogout), infectious diseases, traumatic events, and hemorrhagic disorders, as well as being secondary to overuse. Repetitive injury within the bursa results in local vasodilatation and increased vascular permeability, which stimulate the inflammatory cascade.
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.
Medical examination is not necessarily required in light cases where the tenderness is minimal. In all cases where smooth improvement is not experienced, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible to exclude a (partial) rupture of the Achilles tendon or rupture of the soleus muscle. This situation is best determined by use of ultrasound scanning, as a number of injuries requiring treatment can easily be overlooked during a clinical examination (Ultrasonic image). Ultrasound scanning enables an evaluation of the extent of the change in the tendon, inflammation of the tendon (tendinitis), development of cicatricial tissue (tendinosis), calcification, inflammation of the tissue surrounding the tendon (peritendinitis), inflammation of the bursa (bursitis), as well as (partial) rupture.
Non Surgical Treatment
All types of bursitis often can be successfully managed non-surgically, and possible treatments include use of ice packs or compressive dressings, activity modification that may reduce stress or irritation, administration of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or antibiotics, corticosteroid injections (knee and elbow), stretching exercises, and/or change of footwear (heel). Surgery may be required in patients whose symptoms remain following these treatments and in certain situations when infection is involved.
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.
People can lower the risk of bursitis by gradually strengthening and stretching the muscles around the joints and taking regular breaks from repetitive motion that might irritate bursae. Prolonged time resting on the elbows or kneeling should be avoided, if it cannot be avoided, wearing cushioned elbow and knee pads can help protect the bursae. Comfortable, supportive, low-heeled shoes can help prevent bursitis in the foot.