Bursitis On The Foot

Overview


Whenever tissues rub against one another, a bursa forms to allow for smooth gliding. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac and occurs normally throughout the body. Only a few cell layers thick, a bursa is filled with a lubricating fluid. However, when irritated, a bursa can become markedly thickened and painful. This is often referred to as bursitis. The retrocalcaneal bursa is positioned to allow the Achilles tendon to glide over the back part (posterior aspect) of the heel bone. When this bone becomes enlarged, inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa occurs. This inflammation results in exquisite tenderness along the posterior aspect of the heel.


Causes


Although rare, bursitis also may be caused by an infection, known as septic bursitis. This is a serious medical condition that requires antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent its spread to other points in the body or the bloodstream. Septic bursitis may cause the back of the ankle to become red or hot. The person may also get the chills or fever and may feel sick and tired. Typically this type of bursitis would be suspected if there has been any history of an open wound in the area, such as a blister.


Symptoms


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.


Diagnosis


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may demonstrate bursal inflammation, but this modality probably does not offer much more information than that found by careful physical examination. Theoretically, MRI could help the physician to determine whether the inflammation is within the subcutaneous bursa, the subtendinous bursa, or even within the tendon itself, however, such testing is generally not necessary. Ultrasonography may be a potentially useful tool for diagnosing pathologies of the Achilles tendon.


Non Surgical Treatment


The underlying cause of the bursitis must be identified to prevent further reoccurrences. Failure to eliminate the cause will lead to future flare ups and a poor and slow recovery. Future occurrences can be prevented with the use of stretches and strengthening exercises which will help prevent the muscles from tightening up over the bursa, Pilates and yoga are very good for this providing the aggravating movements are avoided. Wearing joint supports such as knee pads or elbow supports may also reduce the likelihood of redeveloping bursitis.


Surgical Treatment


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.


Prevention


Maintain proper form when exercising, good flexibility, and strength around the ankle to help prevent this condition from arising. Proper stretching of the achilles tendon helps prevent injury.

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Shaina Eatherly

Author:Shaina Eatherly
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