Pain at the posterior heel or posterior ankle is most commonly caused by pathology at the posterior calcaneus, the Achilles (calcaneal) tendon, or the associated bursae. The following bursae are located just superior to the insertion of the Achilles tendon. Subtendinous calcaneal bursa. This bursa (also called the retrocalcaneal bursa), situated anterior (deep) to the Achilles tendon, is located between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus. Subcutaneous calcaneal bursa. Also called the Achilles bursa, it is found posterior (superficial) to the Achilles tendon, lying between the skin and the posterior aspect of the distal Achilles tendon. Inflammation of one or both of these bursae can cause pain in the posterior heel and ankle regions.
Overuse of the ankle joint may cause irritation of the bursa such as excessive walking, running or jumping. Poor biomechanics and foot function may ultimately lead to heel bursitis due to pulling on the back of the heel by the Achilles tendon.
A sudden increase in physical activity without adequate rest may result in heel bursitis. Excessive standing and walking bare foot on hard surfaces.
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.
Like all other forms of bursitis, initially the physician will take down the history of symptoms experienced by the patient, this will be followed by a detailed physical examination which involves checking for inflammation signs like pain, redness, and warmth of the heel area. The physician might examine further by moving the ankle a little to determine the exact location of pain. Further diagnostic tests including x-ray, bone scans, and MRI scan might be suggested if required.
Non Surgical Treatment
Medications may be used to reduce the inflammation and pain of retrocalcaneal bursitis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen can be purchased without a prescription and used to treat mild to moderate pain. These drugs are often used in combination with a physical therapy program or other retrocalcaneal bursitis treatments.
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.