In your calf at the back of the lower leg sit two major muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), both held by the Achilles tendon (Equinus). Between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone is a bursa sac called a retrocalcaneal bursa (‘calcaneus’ = ‘heel bone’ and ‘retro’ = ‘behind’). During contraction of the calf muscles, the Achilles tendon rubs against the retrocalcaneal bursa, which can become irritated as a result.
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.
The doctor will discuss your symptoms and visually assess the bones and soft tissue in your foot. If a soft tissue injury is suspected, an MRI will likely be done to view where and how much the damage is in your ankle. An x-ray may be recommended to rule out a bone spur or other foreign body as the cause of your ankle pain. As the subcutaneous bursa is close to the surface of the skin, it is more susceptible to septic, or infectious, bursitis caused by a cut or scrape at the back of the heel. Septic bursitis required antibiotics to get rid of the infection. Your doctor will be able to determine whether there is an infection or not by drawing a small sample of the bursa fluid with a needle.
Non Surgical Treatment
It is important to treat bursitis in the early stages to reduce the symptoms, minimize damage and maintain motion and strength in your foot. Resting your ankle, using proper cushioning, wearing comfortable footwear and reducing any activities that add pressure on your bursa will help to reduce your pain and bursitis inflammation.
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.