In your calf at the back of the lower leg sit two major muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), both held by the Achilles tendon (Equinus). Between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone is a bursa sac
called a retrocalcaneal bursa ('calcaneus' = 'heel bone' and 'retro' = 'behind'). During contraction of the calf muscles, the Achilles tendon rubs against the retrocalcaneal bursa, which can become
irritated as a result.
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
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.
Diagnosis is first by clinical suspicion of symptoms. This can be mistaken for gout or infection especially in the big toe region. A diagnosis of bursitis is usually used in combination of the
underlying cause, for instance a bunion deformity, Haglund's deformity, or Heel Spur Syndrome. Many times the cause needs to be addressed to rid the problem of bursitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Physical therapy is also used to treat retrocalcaneal bursitis. People with this condition may be instructed to use ice on the heel and ankle several times each day. Ice should be applied for periods
of 15 to 20 minutes. Prolonged use of ice is not recommended because it can stop blood flow if left in place for a long period of time. Exercises and stretches for the Achilles tendon can help to
relieve some of the pressure on the bursae below the tendons. If physical activity must be limited due to a flare-up of this condition, other exercises can be done to maintain fitness. They include
water aerobics and swimming.
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.