Plantar calcaneal bursitis is a medical condition in which there is inflammation of the plantar calcaneal bursa, a spongy fluid filled sac that cushions the fascia of the heel and the calcaneus (heel bone). It is characterized by swelling and tenderness of the central plantar heel area. It is sometimes called ‘Policeman’s heel’. It sometimes was, and should not be, confused with plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation of the plantar fascia and can affect any part of the foot.
The causes and risk factors of retrocalcaneal bursitis are listed below. Identifying the underlying reason the bursa is inflamed will help set a course for treatment. Repetitive use of the ankle. Retrocalcaneal bursitis is often caused by frequent “mini-traumas.” These mini-traumas are often due to excessive walking, jumping, or running. Running uphill, which causes the foot to flex considerably, can be especially irritating to the retrocalcaneal bursae. People who suddenly intensify their exercise programs without adequate stretching and muscle conditioning may get retrocalcaneal bursitis. In general, it is often associated with over use of the Achilles attachment, the area where the Achilles tendon fibers attach to the heel.
Pain and tenderness are common symptoms. If the affected joint is close to the skin, as with the shoulder, knee, elbow, or Achilles tendon, swelling and redness are seen and the area may feel warm to the touch. The bursae around the hip joint are deeper, and swelling is not obvious. Movement may be limited and is painful. In the shoulder, it may be difficult to raise the arm out from the side of the body. Putting on a jacket or combing the hair becomes a troublesome activity. In acute bursitis symptoms appear suddenly, with chronic bursitis, pain, tenderness, and limited movement reappear after exercise or strain.
When a patient has pain in a joint, a careful physical examination is needed to determine what type of movement is affected and if there is any swelling present. Bursitis will not show up on x-rays, although sometimes there are also calcium deposits in the joint that can be seen. Inserting a thin needle into the affected bursa and removing (aspirating) some of the synovial fluid for examination can confirm the diagnosis. In most cases, the fluid will not be clear. It can be tested for the presence of microorganisms, which would indicate an infection, and crystals, which could indicate gout. In instances where the diagnosis is difficult, a local anesthetic (a drug that numbs the area) is injected into the painful spot. If the discomfort stops temporarily, then bursitis is probably the correct diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Rest and apply cold therapy or ice. Ice should not be applied directly to the skin as it may cause ice burns but wrap in a wet tea towel. Commercially available hot and cold packs are often more convenience than using ice. Taping the bursa with a donut shaped pad to take some of the pressure from footwear may help. A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication e.g. ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation. Applying electrotherapy such as ultrasound may reduce inflammation and swelling. A steroid injection followed by 48 hours rest may be given for persistent cases. If the bursitis is particularly bad and does not respond to conservative treatment then surgery is also an option.
Surgery. Though rare, particularly challenging cases of retrocalcaneal bursitis might warrant a bursectomy, in which the troublesome bursa is removed from the back of the ankle. Surgery can be effective, but operating on this boney area can cause complications, such as trouble with skin healing at the incision site. In addition to removing the bursa, a doctor may use the surgery to treat another condition associated with the retrocalcaneal bursitis. For example, a surgeon may remove a sliver of bone from the back of the heel to alter foot mechanics and reduce future friction. Any bone spurs located where the Achilles attaches to the heel may also be removed. Regardless of the conservative treatment that is provided, it is important to wait until all pain and swelling around the back of the heel is gone before resuming activities. This may take several weeks. Once symptoms are gone, a patient may make a gradual return to his or her activity level before their bursitis symptoms began. Returning to activities that cause friction or stress on the bursa before it is healed will likely cause bursitis symptoms to flare up again.
It isn’t always possible to avoid the sudden blow, bump, or fall that may produce bursitis. But you can protect your body with measures similar to those that protect you from other kinds of overuse injuries, such as tendinitis. Keep yourself in good shape. Strengthening and flexibility exercises tone muscles that support joints and help increase joint mobility. Don?t push yourself too hard (or too long). If you?re engaged in physical labor, pace yourself and take frequent breaks. If you?re beginning a new exercise program or a new sport, work up gradually to higher levels of fitness. And anytime you?re in pain, stop. Work on technique. Make sure your technique is correct if you play tennis, golf, or any sport that may strain your shoulder. Watch out for ?elbow-itis.? If you habitually lean on your elbow at your work desk, this may be a sign that your chair is uncomfortable or the wrong height. Try to arrange your work space so that you don?t have to lean on your elbow to read, write, or view your computer screen. Take knee precautions. If you have a task that calls for lots of kneeling (for example, refinishing or waxing a floor), cushion your knees, change position frequently, and take breaks. Wear the right shoes. High-heeled or ill-fitting shoes cause bunions, and tight shoes can also cause bursitis in the heel. Problems in the feet can also affect the hips. In particular, the tendons and bursae in the hips can be put under excessive strain by worn-down heels. Buy shoes that fit and keep them in good repair. Never wear a shoe that?s too short or narrow. Women should save their high heels for special occasions only. Avoid staying in only one position for too long. Get up and walk around for a while or change positions frequently.