A bursa is a closed, fluid-filled sac that functions as a cushion and gliding surface to reduce friction between tissues of the body. The major bursae are located adjacent to the tendons near the large joints, such as in the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees. When the bursa becomes inflamed, the condition is known as bursitis. Bursitis is usually a temporary condition. It may restrain motion, but generally does not cause deformity.
If the posterior-superior portion of the heel has an abnormally large bony prominence protruding from it (called a Haglund's Deformity), in some instances it may rub against the Achilles Tendon. When this occurs, the bursa between the bone and the tendon will become inflamed, swollen, and painful. This condition is called Retrocalcaneal Bursitis. The presence of a Haglund's Deformity does not insure that these problems will occur. In order for these problems to occur, the heel and foot must be tilted in such a way as to actually force this bony prominence into the bursa and tendon.
Nagging ache and swelling in or around a joint. Painful and restricted movement in the affected joint. Pain radiating into the neck or arms when bursitis strikes the shoulder (the most common site). Fever, when associated with an infection.
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
Over-the-counter or custom heel wedges may help to decrease the stress placed on the attachment of the achilles tendon and the associated bursa. If these interventions are ineffective, then some health care providers may inject a small amount of steroids into the bursa. If the condition is associated with Achilles tendonitis, then casting the ankle to prevent motion for several weeks can be effective. Very rarely, surgery may be necessary to remove the inflamed bursa.
Surgery is rarely done strictly for treatment of a bursitis. If any underlying cause is the reason, this may be addressed surgically. During surgery for other conditions, a bursa may be seen and removed surgically.