Between the heel bone and the plantar fascia is a small fluid filled sac that is called the plantar (bottom of) calcaneal (heel bone) bursa. The plantar calcaneal bursa?s job is to allow the plantar fascia to glide easily over the heel bone without irritation. If this becomes inflamed and irritated a plantar calcaneal bursitis occurs which can be extremely painful and disabling forcing the athlete to stop training.
For the most part, it is a genetic condition. You develop it by inheriting a foot type that is prone to the mechanical irritation that leads to the problem. If you have this particular foot type and wear shoes that rub and irritate the back of the heel bone (calcaneus) where the Achilles tendon attaches, then you are even more likely to develop this type of bursitis. The contributing factors include a supinated foot type, a heel bone with a prominence (or pointed shape that stick out toward the tendon) at the back, a tight Achilles tendon (referred to as Equinus by doctors), and a high arch. All of these factors simply make it more likely that the back of the heel will press against the shoe and rub. As the tendon gets rubbed the wrong way, the bursa starts to develop and fill with fluid. This response is really your body's way of protecting the tendon from damage, but it backfires. The friction from all that rubbing causes the bursa to become inflamed and swell. This causes the bump to become red, hot and stick out even further. Much like a sore thumb, it then gets irritated by even the softest shoes.
Pain and tenderness usually develop slowly over time. Applying pressure to the back of the heel can cause pain. Wearing shoes may become uncomfortable. The back of the heel may feel achy. Pain is exacerbated when the foot is pointed or flexed, because the swollen bursa can get squeezed. A person with retrocalcaneal bursitis may feel pain when standing on their toes. Fever or chills in addition to other bursitis symptoms can be a sign of septic bursitis. Though uncommon, septic retrocalcaneal bursitis is a serious condition, and patients should seek medical care to ensure the infection does not spread.
Your health care provider will take a history to find out if you have symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis. Examining your ankle can find 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). Or, the pain may be worse when you rise on your toes. You will not usually need imaging studies such as x-ray and MRI at first. If the first treatment does not improve the symptoms, your health care provider may recommend these tests. MRI may show inflammation.
Non Surgical Treatment
During the initial acute phase of the condition, patients should apply ice to the back of the heel for 15 to 20 minutes and follow the R.I.C.E.R regime. Avoid activities that cause pain. Gradual progressive stretching of the calf muscle and Achilles tendon is also advocated. Changing the footwear. Wearing an open-backed shoe may help relieve pressure on the affected region. For those whose symptoms were caused by a sudden change from wearing high-heeled shoes to flat shoes, the temporary use of footwear with a heel height in between may be helpful. Inserting a heel cup in the shoe may help to raise the inflamed region slightly above the shoe?s restricting heel counter and relieve the pain. It is advisable to also insert the heel cup into the other shoe to avoid any leg-leg discrepancies that can lead to other problems. Training frequency and intensity should be gradually progressed with adequate rest between trainings.
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.