Overview

A bursa is a small sack of fluid that sits between a tendon and a bone to help the tendon move smoothly over the bone. The retrocalcaneal bursa in situated in the feet between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus or heel bone. With repeated trauma the bursa can become inflamed. Achilles tendon bursitis is often mistaken for achilles tendinitis. It is possible for the athlete to have both achilles tendinitis and achilles tendon bursitis at the same time which is known as Haglund's syndrome.

Causes

Overtraining in a runner (eg, excessive increases in miles or intensity). Tight or poorly fitting shoes that, because of a restrictive heel counter, exert excessive pressure on the posterior heel and ankle Haglund deformity, causing impingement between the increased posterior superior calcaneal prominence and the Achilles tendon during dorsiflexion. More recent research suggests that a misaligned subtalar joint axis (measured in terms of joint inclination and deviation) in relation to the Achilles tendon can result in an asymmetrical force load on the tendon, disrupting normal biomechanics. This altered joint axis is associated with an increased risk for Achilles pathologies, including bursitis.

Symptoms

Pain when activating the Achilles tendon (running and jumping) and when applying pressure at the point of attachment of the tendon on the heel bone. Contrary to the tenderness occurring with inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the tenderness is localised to the point of attachment to the heel bone.

Diagnosis

Careful examination by your physician or physiotherapist can determine if the inflammation is from the Achilles tendon or from the retrocalcaneal bursa. Tenderness due to insertional Achilles tendinitis is normally located slightly more distal where the tendon inserts into the back of the heel, whereas tenderness caused by the retrocalcaneal bursa is normally palpable at the sides of the distal Achilles tendon. Diagnosis can be confirmed with an ultrasound investigation, MRI or CT scan.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatments should involve decreasing swelling, relieving pain and stress on the Achilles, correcting any biomechanical dysfunction (over-pronation or flat feet), treating scar tissue, and then restoring strength and movement. If you are performing an activity that could cause further trauma to the bursa, it is recommended that you protect the area with padding and/or proper footwear to prevent further irritation or damage.

Surgical Treatment

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.

Prevention

People can lower the risk of bursitis by gradually strengthening and stretching the muscles around the joints and taking regular breaks from repetitive motion that might irritate bursae. Prolonged time resting on the elbows or kneeling should be avoided, if it cannot be avoided, wearing cushioned elbow and knee pads can help protect the bursae. Comfortable, supportive, low-heeled shoes can help prevent bursitis in the foot.

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