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.
Retrocalcaneal bursitis is generally caused by local trauma from poorly designed shoes. Patients complain of posterolateral heel pain and may have a posterior heel prominence (?pump bump?), as well
as local swelling and tenderness over the Achilles tendon. Pain is increased by squeezing the bursa from side to side and anterior to the Achilles. A heel lift and open-back shoes help alleviate
Symptoms include pain at the back of the heel, especially when running uphill or on soft surfaces. There will be tenderness and swelling at the back of the heel which may make it difficult to wear
certain shoes. When pressing in with the fingers both sides are the back of the heel a spongy resistance may be felt.
Your doctor will take a history to find out if you have the symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis. By examining your ankle, he or she can generally tell the location of the pain. The physician will
look for tenderness and redness in the back of the heel. The pain may be worse when the doctor bends the ankle upward (dorsiflex), as this may tighten the achilles tendon over the inflamed bursa.
Alternatively, the pain may be worse with toe rise, as this puts stress on the attachment of the achilles tendon to the heel bone. Imaging studies such as X-ray and MRI are not usually necessary at
first. If initial treatment fails to improve the symptoms, these studies may be obtained. MRI may show inflammation.
Non Surgical Treatment
Many cases of retrocalcaneal bursitis can be resolved with self-care that is focused on reducing inflammation and eliminating activities or positions that aggravate the bursa. Some cases, however,
may become more serious and require more medical interventions. Rarely, surgery is needed. Following the R.I.C.E. formula, or Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, is often sufficient to treat
aseptic bursitis. Rest. People with retrocalcaneal bursitis should avoid activities that irritate the bursa, such as jogging or excessive walking. Ice. Applying a cold compress to the back of the
ankle for about 20 minutes two or three times a day may help alleviate symptoms and decrease swelling. Compression. An elastic medical bandage (e.g. Ace? bandage) wrapped around the affected heel and
ankle can help control swelling. Elevating the affected heel. Sitting down with the leg elevated on a stool or lying down with the foot elevated on a pillow can help reduce blood flow to the area,
thereby reducing inflammation.
Only if non-surgical attempts at treatment fail, will it make sense to consider surgery. Surgery for retrocalcanel bursitis can include many different procedures. Some of these include removal of the
bursa, removing any excess bone at the back of the heel (calcaneal exostectomy), and occasionally detachment and re-attachment of the Achilles tendon. If the foot structure and shape of the heel bone
is a primary cause of the bursitis, surgery to re-align the heel bone (calcaneal osteotomy) may be considered. Regardless of which exact surgery is planned, the goal is always to decrease pain and
correct the deformity. The idea is to get you back to the activities that you really enjoy. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the exact surgical procedure that is most likely to correct the
problem in your case. But if you have to have surgery, you can work together to develop a plan that will help assure success.