A properly functioning heel is essential to normal, smooth, and painless gait. The heel is the first area to strike the ground during normal gait, which means it takes the brunt of the stress incurred during walking and running activities. Of course, this also means that the heel is highly prone to injury. One such injury is called heel bursitis.
There are several factors which can predispose patients to developing this condition. These need to be assessed and corrected with direction from a physiotherapist and may include poor foot biomechanics (particularly flat feet), inappropriate footwear (e.g. excessively tight fitting shoes), muscle weakness (particularly the calf, quadriceps and gluteals), muscle tightness (particularly the calf), joint stiffness (particularly the ankle, subtalar joint or foot), bony anomalies of the heel bone, inappropriate or excessive training or activity, inadequate recovery periods from sport or activity, inadequate warm up, inadequate rehabilitation following a previous Achilles injury, change in training conditions or surfaces, inappropriate running technique, inadequate fitness, poor pelvic and core stability, poor proprioception or balance, being overweight.
Your feet are extremely resilient and are designed to stand up to the pressures of day-to-day living. In some cases, though, foot structures may break down when subjected to chronic stress associated with prolonged periods of weight-bearing activity on concrete, asphalt, or other hard surfaces (especially when your footwear does not allow for appropriate weight distribution). Foot problems, including infracalcaneal bursitis, are often exacerbated by poorly designed footwear, and pressure, impact, and shear forces can damage your feet over time. Bursal sacs are intended to minimize this damage, but sometimes the bursa itself becomes inflamed.
Obtaining a detailed history from the patient is important in diagnosing calcaneal bursitis. The following complaints (which the physician should ask about during the subjective examination) are commonly reported by patients.
Other inquiries that the physician should make include the following. The clinician should ask about the patient’s customary footwear (whether, for example, it includes high-heeled shoes or tight-fitting athletic shoes). The patient should be asked specifically about any recent change in footwear, such as whether he/she is wearing new athletic shoes or whether the patient has made a transition from flat shoes to high heels or vice versa. Individuals who have been accustomed to wearing high-heeled shoes on a long-term basis may find that switching to flat shoes causes increased stretch and irritation of the Achilles tendon and the associated bursae. The specifics of a patient’s activity level should be ascertained, including how far the patient runs and, in particular, whether the individual is running with greater intensity than before or has increased the distance being run. The history of any known or suspected underlying rheumatologic conditions, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or seronegative spondyloarthropathies, should be obtained.
Non Surgical Treatment
Cold compresses can help reduce the initial swelling and pain in acute (short-term but severe) soft tissue conditions. Cold therapy is usually most effective during the first 48 hours after swelling begins. Guidelines for cold therapy include. Use a cold gel pack, a bag filled with ice cubes, or even a bag of frozen vegetables. Wrap the pack in a towel if the cold temperature is too painful. Place the cold pack over the area for 20 minutes, three to four times a day. Rub an ice cube over smaller painful areas for a short time. After 48 hours, or for chronic (long-term) pain, dry or moist heat may be more helpful than cold compresses. Follow these guidelines. Use a hot pack, a heating pad, or a damp towel heated in the microwave (make sure it’s not too hot or it may burn your skin). Place a hot pack over the painful area for 15-20 minutes, three to four times a day. Never use analgesic creams or rubs with heat packs because the combination could severely burn your skin. Take a warm shower or bath.
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.
Protect that part of the body that may be most vulnerable, If you have to kneel a lot, get some knee pads. Elbow braces can protect tennis and golf players. If you are an athlete or avid walker, invest in some good walking or running shoes. When doing repetitive tasks have breaks. Apart from taking regular breaks, try varying your movements so that you are using different parts of your body. Warm up before exercise. Before any type of vigorous exercise you should warm up for at least 5 to 10 minutes. The warm up could include walking at a good speed, slow jogging, or a cycling machine. Strong muscles add extra protection to the area. If you strengthen the muscles in the area where you had bursitis (after you are better), especially the area around the joint, you will have extra protection from injury. Make sure you do this well after your bursitis has gone completely.