The inflammation of the Achilles bursa is not to be confused with the, more common, retrocalcaneal bursitis. Although the retro-calcaneal and Achilles bursae are in the similar region of the heel and their irritation gets treated in almost an identical way, they are two different things.
The causes and risk factors of retrocalcaneal bursitis are listed below. Identifying the underlying reason the bursa is inflamed will help set a course for treatment. Repetitive use of the ankle. Retrocalcaneal bursitis is often caused by frequent "mini-traumas." These mini-traumas are often due to excessive walking, jumping, or running. Running uphill, which causes the foot to flex considerably, can be especially irritating to the retrocalcaneal bursae. People who suddenly intensify their exercise programs without adequate stretching and muscle conditioning may get retrocalcaneal bursitis. In general, it is often associated with over use of the Achilles attachment, the area where the Achilles tendon fibers attach to the heel.
Bursitis usually causes a dull pain, tenderness, and stiffness near the affected bursa. The bursa may swell and make the skin around it red and warm to the touch. Bursitis is most common in the shoulder camera.gif, elbow camera.gif, hip camera.gif, and knee camera.gif. Bursitis may also occur near the Achilles tendon or in the foot. Symptoms of bursitis may be like those of tendinopathy. Both occur in the tissues in and around the joints. Check with your doctor if your pain is severe, if the sore area becomes very hot or red, or if you have a fever.
When a patient has pain in a joint, a careful physical examination is needed to determine what type of movement is affected and if there is any swelling present. Bursitis will not show up on x-rays, although sometimes there are also calcium deposits in the joint that can be seen. Inserting a thin needle into the affected bursa and removing (aspirating) some of the synovial fluid for examination can confirm the diagnosis. In most cases, the fluid will not be clear. It can be tested for the presence of microorganisms, which would indicate an infection, and crystals, which could indicate gout. In instances where the diagnosis is difficult, a local anesthetic (a drug that numbs the area) is injected into the painful spot. If the discomfort stops temporarily, then bursitis is probably the correct diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Over-the-counter or custom heel wedges may help to decrease the stress placed on the attachment of the achilles tendon and the associated bursa. If these interventions are ineffective, then some health care providers may inject a small amount of steroids into the bursa. If the condition is associated with Achilles tendonitis, then casting the ankle to prevent motion for several weeks can be effective. Very rarely, surgery may be necessary to remove the inflamed bursa.
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).