Retrocalcaneal and retroachilles bursitis are both common types of bursitis that can cause pain at the back of the foot, just above the heel. This pain, and often swelling, occurs when one or both bursae at the back of the heel become irritated and inflamed. Because they have similar symptoms, heel bursitis is sometimes confused with problems affecting the Achilles tendon, which is a long strip of fibrous tissue that connects the back of the heel to the calf muscle. Other times, Achilles tendon problems may bring about the bursitis. For example, tight calf muscles can contribute to chronic pulling where the Achilles tendon inserts into the back of the heel. This pulling can result in friction and irritation that eventually lead to bursitis.
Although rare, bursitis also may be caused by an infection, known as septic bursitis. This is a serious medical condition that requires antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent its spread to other points in the body or the bloodstream. Septic bursitis may cause the back of the ankle to become red or hot. The person may also get the chills or fever and may feel sick and tired. Typically this type of bursitis would be suspected if there has been any history of an open wound in the area, such as a blister.
Pain and tenderness are common symptoms. If the affected joint is close to the skin, as with the shoulder, knee, elbow, or Achilles tendon, swelling and redness are seen and the area may feel warm to the touch. The bursae around the hip joint are deeper, and swelling is not obvious. Movement may be limited and is painful. In the shoulder, it may be difficult to raise the arm out from the side of the body. Putting on a jacket or combing the hair becomes a troublesome activity. In acute bursitis symptoms appear suddenly, with chronic bursitis, pain, tenderness, and limited movement reappear after exercise or strain.
Carrying out a diagnosis for bursitis is fairly straightforward. The doctor will examine the affected area and ask the patient some questions about his/her recent activities. If the patient has a high temperature the physician may take a small sample of fluid from a bursa near the affected body part. The sample will be tested for bacteria, and perhaps also crystals. If the patient does not get better after treatment the doctor may carry out further tests so that he/she can eliminate the possibility that the symptoms might not be due to something else. These may include an x-ray, to make sure no bones are broken or fractured. Blood tests, to check for rheumatoid arthritis. A CT scan or MRI scan to see if there is a torn tendon.
Non Surgical Treatment
Most bursitis cases can be treated by the patient without having to see a doctor. A trip to a pharmacy, a conversation with the pharmacist, and some self-care techniques are usually enough. The NHS (National Health Service, UK) recommends PRICEM, a self-care management approach. PRICEM stands for Protection. Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation. Medication. Protect the affected area, Some people place padding to protect the affected bursae from any blow. Rest. Do not exercise or use the joints in the affected area unless you really have to. Let it rest. Bursitis is a condition that responds well to rest. Ice packs. Ice packs can help reduce pain and inflammation. Make sure you do not place the ice directly on the skin, use a pack or towel. A small pack of frozen vegetables are ideal. Raise the affected area. If you can, lift the affected area, raise it, less blood will gather there. This may help reduce the inflammation. Painkillers. Ibuprofen is an effective painkiller for treating pain, it also reduces inflammation. Steroids. For more severe symptoms the doctor may inject steroids into the affected area. Steroids block a body chemical called prostaglandin. Prostaglandin causes inflammation. Steroids may raise the patient's blood pressure if used for too long, as well as increasing his/her risk of getting an infection. UK doctors are advised not to give more than three steroid injections in one year. Antibiotics. If the fluid test confirms that there is a bacterial infection, the doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics. These will be administered orally (via mouth).
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.