Whenever tissues rub against one another, a bursa forms to allow for smooth gliding. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac and occurs normally throughout the body. Only a few cell layers thick, a bursa is filled with a lubricating fluid. However, when irritated, a bursa can become markedly thickened and painful. This is often referred to as bursitis. The retrocalcaneal bursa is positioned to allow the Achilles tendon to glide over the back part (posterior aspect) of the heel bone. When this bone becomes enlarged, inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa occurs. This inflammation results in exquisite tenderness along the posterior aspect of the heel.
Inflammation of the bursa causes synovial cells to multiply and thereby increases collagen formation and fluid production. A more permeable capillary membrane allows entrance of high protein fluid. The bursal lining may be replaced by granulation tissue followed by fibrous tissue. The bursa becomes filled with fluid, which is often rich in fibrin, and the fluid can become hemorrhagic. One study suggests that this process may be mediated by cytokines, metalloproteases, and cyclooxygenases.
A person with bursitis can have one or more of the symptoms below. Pain, the pain increases with movement or pressure. Tenderness is felt even without movement. Swelling. Loss of movement. If the bursitis is caused by an infection it is called Septic Bursitis. The patient with septic bursitis may have the following additional symptoms. Fever. The affected area is red. The affected area feels hot when touched.
Plain radiographs of the calcaneus may reveal a Haglund deformity (increased prominence of the posterosuperior aspect of the calcaneus). However, on weight-bearing lateral radiographs, the retrocalcaneal recess often appears normal even in patients with retrocalcaneal bursitis, limiting its usefulness in making this diagnosis.Radiographs may be used as a diagnostic measure to support a clinician?s diagnosis of retrocalcaneal bursitis. Individuals with retrocalcaneal bursitis may have an absence of the normal radiolucency (ie, blunting) that is seen in the posteroinferior corner of the Kager fat pad, known as the retrocalcaneal recess or bursal wedge. This may occur with or without an associated erosion of the calcaneus.
Non Surgical Treatment
If not properly treated, a case of bursitis can turn into chronic bursitis, flaring up on and off for several weeks or longer. Bursitis treatment involves resting the joint, often combined with other methods to alleviate swelling, including NSAIDs (e.g. Aleve, ibuprofen), icing the joint, elevating the joint, and wrapping the joint in an elastic bandage. Cases of septic bursitis must also be treated with antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body or into the bloodstream.
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.