Bursae are situated in various locations throughout the body where friction between tissues commonly occurs. These sacs are designed to help reduce friction and prevent pain. Repetitive movements or prolonged and excessive pressure are the most common causes of bursal inflammation, though traumatic injury may also cause this painful problem. In fact, the body sometimes creates bursal sacs in response to trauma or tissue damage.
The most common cause of bursitis is repeated physical activity, but it can flare up for no known reason. It can also be caused by trauma, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and acute or chronic infection.
Pain at the back of the heel, especially with jumping, hopping, tip-toeing, walking or running uphill or on soft surfaces. If tendonitis is also present, the pain can radiate away from the bursa. Direct pressure on the bursa will exacerbate the pain and should be avoided if possible. Tenderness and swelling which might make it difficult to wear certain shoes on the feet. As the bursa becomes more inflamed you will experience swelling and warmth. In severe cases, the bursa will appear as a bump, called a “pump bump”, and is usually red, and extremely tender. Swelling can cause difficulties moving as the range of motion in the ankle can be affected. Limping due to the pain may occur. If you press on both sides of the inflamed heel, there may be a firm spongy feeling. Weakness in the tendons and muscles surrounding the bursa can develop as the pain worsens and the inflammation in the area spreads. Possibly a fever if you are suffering from septic bursitis (You will need to see a doctor for medication to get rid of the infection). Pain at the back of the heel makes it difficult to continue wearing shoes, especially high heels with straps or shoes that don’t fit properly.
Diagnosis of heel bursitis can be made by your health practitioner and is based on the following. Assessing the location of the pain by palpating the back of the heel. Assessment of any inflammation at the back of the heel. Assessment of biomechanics and foot function. Ultrasound or MRI can reveal inflammation of the retro calcaneal bursa.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are a variety of treatments for bursitis of the heel. Bursitis on the bottom of your heel (which is called infracalcaneal bursitis) is common in heels with thinning fat pads. Gel heel cushions or custom made orthotics (that have a horse-shoe cut and extra foam in the heel) can be lifesavers in reducing the pain. For bursitis of the posterior heel (retrocalcaneal bursitis), try to avoid going barefoot and to reduce the stress on the Achilles tendon by not over flexing your heel, the tighter your Achilles becomes, the more you compress the bursa sacs of the posterior heel. Heel lifts can help this, or wearing shoes with elevated heels (note that this method is not sanctioning high heels, as high heels can provide little comfort or support and usually are tight in the areas where your bursitis is most inflamed). Products such as AirHeel made by Aircast can help massage the bottom and back of the heel, helping to decrease pain.
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.