Achilles tendon bursitis, or retrocalcaneal bursitis, can affect anyone, but is typically a foot condition in athletes, especially runners. Because of similar symptoms, this condition is often confused with Achilles tendinitis. At times, bursitis of the Achilles tendon can occur in conjunction with Achilles tendinitis. When both conditions are present, it is referred to as Haglund's syndrome. If you are a runner and are experiencing pain in your lower leg and heel area, you may be suffering from Achilles tendon bursitis. Proper treatment of the condition can help relieve the pain and allow your leg to heal.
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.
Your heel may feel more sensitive to the cold and ache in cold and damp weather due to impaired circulation. These symptoms are often the result of failure to treat the injury properly from the outset and overicing.
Medical examination is not necessarily required in light cases where the tenderness is minimal. In all cases where smooth improvement is not experienced, medical attention should be sought as soon as possible to exclude a (partial) rupture of the Achilles tendon or rupture of the soleus muscle. This situation is best determined by use of ultrasound scanning, as a number of injuries requiring treatment can easily be overlooked during a clinical examination (Ultrasonic image). Ultrasound scanning enables an evaluation of the extent of the change in the tendon, inflammation of the tendon (tendinitis), development of cicatricial tissue (tendinosis), calcification, inflammation of the tissue surrounding the tendon (peritendinitis), inflammation of the bursa (bursitis), as well as (partial) rupture.
Non Surgical Treatment
Over-the-counter or custom heel wedges may help to decrease the stress placed on the attachment of the achilles tendon and the associated bursa. If these interventions are ineffective, then some health care providers may inject a small amount of steroids into the bursa. If the condition is associated with Achilles tendonitis, then casting the ankle to prevent motion for several weeks can be effective. Very rarely, surgery may be necessary to remove the inflamed bursa.
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.
After taking a history and performing a physical examination, your physician may order x-rays to rule out other disorders. Your doctor may administer injections of corticosteroids and a local anesthetic to reduce swelling and ease pain. Also, to reduce swelling, your physician may draw excess fluid from the bursa with a syringe and then tightly wrap and compress the joint with an elastic bandage. In severe, persistent cases surgery to remove the bursa may be necessary. For infectious bursitis, antibiotics will be prescribed.