That dull misery in the shoulder, knee or elbow known as bursitis can strike anybody, from the couch potato to the highly trained athlete. Though bursitis may hurt as much as arthritis, it isn?t a joint disease. Rather, it’s an acute or chronic painful inflammation of a bursa. Bursae (from the Greek word for wine-skin and related to the English word purse) are small, closed, fluid-filled sacs that protect muscles and tendons from irritation produced by contact with bones. If friction becomes too great, from overexercising, hard work, or injury, for instance-the bursae themselves may get inflamed. Though the shoulder is a common locale for bursitis, any of the bursae in the human body-there are approximately 150-can become irritated. Occupational bursitis is not uncommon and is known by old, familiar names such as “housemaid’s knee,” and “policeman’s heel.” One of the most common foot ailments, the bunion, is a form of bursitis.
Normally, only one bursa is in the heel, between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone (calcaneus). This bursa may become inflamed, swollen, and painful, resulting in anterior Achilles tendon bursitis. Abnormal pressure and foot dysfunction can cause a protective bursa to form between the Achilles tendon and the skin. This bursa may also become inflamed, swollen, and painful, resulting in posterior Achilles tendon bursitis.
Where the tendon joins the calcaneal bone, friction can cause the spaces between the tendon, bone and skin to swell and inflame with bursitis. This constitutes a calcaneal bursa. Apart from swelling over the back of the heel, you?ll feel acute tenderness and pain when you move it or even apply light pressure. Your swollen heel may look more red than the other one, and the swelling is often so hard it can feel like bone, partly because it sometimes is, as a bony overgrowth can occur in chronic cases.
Your doctor will take a history to find out if you have the symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis. By examining your ankle, he or she can generally tell the location of the pain. The physician will look for tenderness and redness in the back of the heel. The pain may be worse when the doctor bends the ankle upward (dorsiflex), as this may tighten the achilles tendon over the inflamed bursa. Alternatively, the pain may be worse with toe rise, as this puts stress on the attachment of the achilles tendon to the heel bone. Imaging studies such as X-ray and MRI are not usually necessary at first. If initial treatment fails to improve the symptoms, these studies may be obtained. MRI may show inflammation.
Non Surgical Treatment
In addition to R.I.C.E., there are a number of other treatments to reduce swelling and any associated pain or discomfort due to heel bursitis. Orthotics or change of footwear. Wearing an orthotic device such as a heel insert can encourage better mechanics in the foot and reduce irritation of the retrocalcaneal bursa. Some people do not need special orthotics but simply need to stop wearing shoes with rigid heel and ankle construction and instead wear more supportive, comfortable shoes. Shoes with an “Achilles notch,” a groove in the collar at the back of the shoe to protect the Achilles tendon, can be particularly helpful. (Almost all running shoes are designed with an Achilles notch.) Stretching and physical therapy. Stretching the Achilles tendon often helps alleviate pain. Once the pain is resolved it is important for the patient to continue a regular stretching program. Regular stretching reduces the chance of recurrence.
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.