Infracalcaneal bursitis can significantly affect your quality of life and your ability to perform your activities of daily living, due to pain and impaired gait. Inflammation of the bursal sac under your heel bone occurs because the bursa is abnormally stressed or strained in some way or bears excessive pressure for prolonged periods. Constant pressure and friction from footwear is a common cause of this health problem, and any treatment plan addressing infracalcaneal bursitis should include recommendations for footwear to avoid or use. Infracalcaneal bursitis may be diagnosed in several ways, including palpation, or light pressure applied to your affected area. If your heel pain has existed for an extended period, X-ray imaging studies may reveal localized calcification in your infracalcaneal bursa, though this is not always the case. MRI images are sometimes used as a diagnostic tool for this health problem, though MRI studies are considered unnecessary for diagnosis in many cases.
Pain at the posterior heel or ankle is most commonly caused by pathology at either the posterior calcaneus (at the calcaneal insertion site of the Achilles tendon) or at its associated bursae. Two bursae are located just superior to the insertion of the Achilles (calcaneal) tendon. Anterior or deep to the tendon is the retrocalcaneal (subtendinous) bursa, which is located between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus. Posterior or superficial to the Achilles tendon is the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, also called the Achilles bursa. This bursa is located between the skin and posterior aspect of the distal Achilles tendon. Inflammation of either or both of these bursa can cause pain at the posterior heel and ankle region.
Patients with this condition typically experience pain at the back of the ankle and heel where the Achilles tendon attaches into the heel bone. Pain is typically experienced during activities requiring strong or repetitive calf contractions (often involving end of range ankle movements) such as walking (especially uphill), going up and down stairs, running, jumping or hopping (especially whilst wearing excessively tight shoes). Often pain may be worse with rest after these activities (especially that night or the following morning). The pain associated with this condition may 'warm up' with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Other symptoms may include tenderness on firmly touching the affected bursa and swelling around the Achilles region.
Diagnosis is first by clinical suspicion of symptoms. This can be mistaken for gout or infection especially in the big toe region. A diagnosis of bursitis is usually used in combination of the underlying cause, for instance a bunion deformity, Haglund's deformity, or Heel Spur Syndrome. Many times the cause needs to be addressed to rid the problem of bursitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
When retrocalcaneal bursitis is associated with tendonitis, it may be necessary to immobilize the ankle for several weeks to allow the Achilles tendon to heal. This can be done by placing a cast on the ankle, which limits movement and allows the tendon to rest. Walking boots may also be used to limit ankle movement and allow people with retrocalcaneal bursitis to avoid putting pressure on the inflamed bursae.
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.