Pain at the posterior heel or posterior ankle is most commonly caused by pathology at the posterior calcaneus, the Achilles (calcaneal) tendon, or the associated bursae. The following bursae are located just superior to the insertion of the Achilles tendon. Subtendinous calcaneal bursa. This bursa (also called the retrocalcaneal bursa), situated anterior (deep) to the Achilles tendon, is located between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus. Subcutaneous calcaneal bursa. Also called the Achilles bursa, it is found posterior (superficial) to the Achilles tendon, lying between the skin and the posterior aspect of the distal Achilles tendon. Inflammation of one or both of these bursae can cause pain in the posterior heel and ankle regions.
Bursitis of the Achilles tendon is caused by the irritation and inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa, a small fluid-filled sac located in the back of the ankle that acts as a cushion and lubricant for the ankle joint. Possible causes of Achilles tendon bursitis include aging, Factors related to the aging process, including the onset of rheumatoid arthritis and gout, can deteriorate the bursa. Overuse of ankle. Excessive walking, uphill running, jumping, and other aggressive exercise regimens, especially without proper conditioning, can cause irritation to the bursa. Trauma. Sudden injury to the ankle joint, or trauma caused by rigid or improperly fitted shoes, can increase the chances of developing bursitis.
When the bursa becomes inflamed after an injury, symptoms usually develop suddenly. When the bursa develops without an injury, symptoms may develop gradually. With both posterior and anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, symptoms usually include swelling and warmth at the back of the heel. A minimally red, swollen, tender spot develops on the back of the heel. When the inflamed bursa enlarges, it appears as a red lump under the skin of the heel and causes pain at and above the heel. If posterior Achilles tendon bursitis becomes chronic, the swelling may become hard, fluid-filled, and red or flesh-colored.
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
The most important part of treating bursitis is resting your Achilles tendon while the bursa heals. Resting your ankle as much as possible may decrease swelling and keep the bursitis from getting worse. When the pain decreases, begin normal, slow movements. Ice causes blood vessels to constrict (get small) which helps decrease inflammation (swelling, pain, and redness). Put crushed ice in a plastic bag or use a bag of frozen corn or peas. Cover it with a towel. Put this on your heel for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times each day. Do not sleep on the ice pack because you can get frostbite. After two or three days, you may try using heat to decrease pain and stiffness. Use a hot water bottle, heating pad, whirlpool or warm, moist compress. To make a compress, dip a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring out the extra water and put it on your heel for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times each day. Your caregiver may tell you to switch between treating your heel with ice packs and heat treatments. Follow the caregiver's directions carefully when doing these treatments.
Surgery is rarely need to treat most of these conditions. A patient with a soft tissue rheumatic syndrome may need surgery, however, if problems persist and other treatment methods do not help symptoms.