There is a thick walled fluid filled bursa between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneal bone. The color Doppler images show hypervascularity of the bursal wall. A minimal amount of fluid in the retrocalcaneal bursa can often be found. A retrocalcaneal bursitis is caused by friction of the Achilles tendon over the upper part of the calcaneal bone. It is often an overuse injury found in athletes.
As ligaments and tendons stretch and tear, blood from ruptured blood vessels becomes trapped in the local tissues. As the trapped blood clots up, it sticks the tissues together creating adhesions. Adhesions cause pain, inflammation and restricted movement because the layers of tissue that used to slide smoothly across one another now adhere and snap which interferes with normal functioning. It is essential to break up clotted blood as quickly as possible to prevent adhesions and scar tissue from forming.
Some of the symptoms of bursitis in the heel, or retrocalcaneal bursitis, are as described below. Severe pain in the heel area of the foot, sometimes radiating to the ankle, associated with physical activities like walking, jogging and even on physical contact to the area. The physical signs of heel bursitis, which are noticeable in the heel area, are reddish discoloration of the skin that is warm to touch.
A good clinical practise includes evaluation of the tendon, bursa and calcaneum by, careful history, inspection of the region for bony prominence and local swelling as well as palpation of the area of maximal tenderness. Biomechanical abnormalities, joint stiffness and proximal soft tissue tightening can exacerbate an anatomical predisposition to retrocalcaneal bursitis, they warrant correction when present.
Non Surgical Treatment
For non-infectious bursitis, the preliminary treatment starts with non-operative options such as cold compression therapy and Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy. Surgery to remove the inflamed bursa is normally not required for bursitis, however if you fail to see improvement with the conservative treatments, your physician may recommend surgery to remove the bursa completely. Although this removes the problem of an inflamed bursa, you are left with less cushioning in your joint which can lead to a host of other conditions.
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.