Achilles tendon bursitis is inflammation of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) located either between the skin of the back of the heel and the Achilles tendon (posterior Achilles tendon bursitis) or in front of the attachment of the Achilles tendon to the heel bone (anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, retrocalcaneal bursitis). Typical symptoms include swelling and warmth and a tender spot at the back of the heel. The diagnosis is based on symptoms, an examination, and sometimes x-rays. Treatment is aimed at relieving the inflammation and, depending on the location of the Achilles tendon bursitis, eliminating the pressure on the back of the heel. The Achilles tendon is the tendon that attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone. Posterior Achilles tendon bursitis is often associated with formation of a bone prominence called Haglund deformity or ?pump bump? on the heel bone. Anterior Achilles tendon bursitis is also called Albert disease or retromalleolar bursitis.
A bursa acts as a cushion and lubricant between tendons or muscles sliding over bone. There are bursas around most large joints in the body, including the ankle. The retrocalcaneal bursa is located in the back of the ankle by the heel. It is where the large Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Repeated or too much use of the ankle can cause this bursa to become irritated and inflamed. Possible causes are too much walking, running, or jumping. This condition is usually linked to Achilles tendinitis. Sometimes retrocalcaneal bursitis may be mistaken for Achilles tendinitis. Risks for this condition include starting an aggressive workout schedule, or suddenly increasing activity level without the right conditioning.
Patients with this condition typically experience pain at the back of the ankle and heel where the Achilles tendon attaches into the heel bone. Pain is typically experienced during activities requiring strong or repetitive calf contractions (often involving end of range ankle movements) such as walking (especially uphill), going up and down stairs, running, jumping or hopping (especially whilst wearing excessively tight shoes). Often pain may be worse with rest after these activities (especially that night or the following morning). The pain associated with this condition may ‘warm up’ with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Other symptoms may include tenderness on firmly touching the affected bursa and swelling around the Achilles region.
On physical examination, patients have tenderness at the site of the inflamed bursa. If the bursa is superficial, physical examination findings are significant for localized tenderness, warmth, edema, and erythema of the skin. Reduced active range of motion with preserved passive range of motion is suggestive of bursitis, but the differential diagnosis includes tendinitis and muscle injury. A decrease in both active and passive range of motion is more suggestive of other musculoskeletal disorders. In patients with chronic bursitis, the affected limb may show disuse atrophy and weakness. Tendons may also be weakened and tender.
Non Surgical Treatment
Gradually progressive stretching of the Achilles tendon may help to relieve impingement on the subtendinous calcaneal bursa. Stretching of the Achilles tendon can be performed by having the patient place the affected foot flat on the floor and lean forward toward the wall until a gentle stretch is felt in the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. The stretch is maintained for 20-60 seconds and then is relaxed. Achilles stretch 1. The patient stands with the affected foot flat on the floor and leans forward toward the wall until a gentle stretch is felt in the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. The stretch is maintained for 20-60 seconds and then is relaxed. Achilles stretch 2. This stretch, which is somewhat more advanced than that shown in Images 1-2, isolates the Achilles tendon. It is held for at least 20-30 seconds and then is relaxed. To maximize the benefit of the stretching program, the patient should repeat the exercise for multiple stretches per set, multiple times per day. Ballistic (ie, abrupt, jerking) stretches should be avoided in order to prevent clinical exacerbation. The patient should be instructed to ice the posterior heel and ankle in order to reduce inflammation and pain. Icing can be performed for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day, during the acute period, which may last for several days. Some clinicians also advocate the use of contrast baths, ultrasound or phonophoresis, iontophoresis, or electrical stimulation for treatment of calcaneal bursitis. If the patient’s activity level needs to be decreased as a result of this condition, alternative means of maintaining strength and cardiovascular fitness (eg, swimming, water aerobics) should be suggested.
Surgery to remove the damaged bursa may be performed in extreme cases. If the bursitis is caused by an infection, then additional treatment is needed. Septic bursitis is caused by the presence of a pus-forming organism, usually staphylococcus aureus. This is confirmed by examining a sample of the fluid in the bursa and requires treatment with antibiotics taken by mouth, injected into a muscle or into a vein (intravenously). The bursa will also need to be drained by needle two or three times over the first week of treatment. When a patient has such a serious infection, there may be underlying causes. There could be undiscovered diabetes, or an inefficient immune system caused by human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV).