Retrocalcaneal bursitis is sometimes difficult to differentiate from Achilles tendinitis, at least symptomatically. Both are most uncomfortable during the push-off phase of gait, are most severely painful in the morning and with walking after sitting for a period of time, and generally worsen with activity. Most practitioners make the distinction between the two simply on the basis of location of pain and tenderness. Generally, Achilles tendinitis is felt an inch or two higher than this form of bursitis.
The swelling is the result of the blockage of blood, tissue fluids and circulation in the heel because their normal movement has been disrupted by the force of the injury. Just like cars back up behind a traffic jam, causing congestion, exhaust and overheating, blood and fluids back up behind the injured heel, causing pain, inflammation, lumps and swelling.
Pain and tenderness usually develop slowly over time. Applying pressure to the back of the heel can cause pain. Wearing shoes may become uncomfortable. The back of the heel may feel achy. Pain is exacerbated when the foot is pointed or flexed, because the swollen bursa can get squeezed. A person with retrocalcaneal bursitis may feel pain when standing on their toes. Fever or chills in addition to other bursitis symptoms can be a sign of septic bursitis. Though uncommon, septic retrocalcaneal bursitis is a serious condition, and patients should seek medical care to ensure the infection does not spread.
The diagnosis is based on the symptoms and an examination. For anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, doctors use x-rays to rule out a fracture of the heel bone or damage to the heel bone caused by rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory arthritis.
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.
Bursectomy is a surgical procedure used to remove an inflamed or infected bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between tissues of the body. Because retrocalcaneal bursitis can cause chronic inflammation, pain and discomfort, bursectomy may be used as a treatment for the condition when it is persistent and cannot be relived with other treatments. During this procedure, a surgeon makes small incisions so that a camera may be inserted into the joint. This camera is called an arthroscope. Another small incision is made so that surgical instruments can be inserted to remove the inflamed bursa.