Bursitis In The Feet And Ankle

Overview

Pain at the posterior heel or posterior ankle is most commonly caused by pathology at the posterior calcaneus, the Achilles (calcaneal) tendon, or the associated bursae. The following bursae are located just superior to the insertion of the Achilles tendon. Subtendinous calcaneal bursa. This bursa (also called the retrocalcaneal bursa), situated anterior (deep) to the Achilles tendon, is located between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus. Subcutaneous calcaneal bursa. Also called the Achilles bursa, it is found posterior (superficial) to the Achilles tendon, lying between the skin and the posterior aspect of the distal Achilles tendon. Inflammation of one or both of these bursae can cause pain in the posterior heel and ankle regions.

Causes

Bursitis may be the result of a direct injury to the heel, such as during a car accident, sport-related accident, or fall that causes a forceful impact or abnormal twisting of the foot. It can also occur due to repetitive use, misuse, or overuse, such as seen in athletic over-training. Excessive pressure over the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa, such from wearing shoes that are tight or fit poorly, can also be a causative factor. Septic bursitis occurs secondary to an infection. The infection may occasionally be systemic, but is most often a localized infection from a subcutaneous heel wound that leaks into the underlying bursa. Other risk factors include any of the following, existing Achilles tendinitis, existing Haglund's deformity, the natural degenerative processes of aging, improper stretching prior to exercise, anatomical differences in the lower extremities that impacts gait, having deformed joints.

Symptoms

Where the tendon joins the calcaneal bone, friction can cause the spaces between the tendon, bone and skin to swell and inflame with bursitis. This constitutes a calcaneal bursa. Apart from swelling over the back of the heel, you?ll feel acute tenderness and pain when you move it or even apply light pressure. Your swollen heel may look more red than the other one, and the swelling is often so hard it can feel like bone, partly because it sometimes is, as a bony overgrowth can occur in chronic cases.

Diagnosis

Carrying out a diagnosis for bursitis is fairly straightforward. The doctor will examine the affected area and ask the patient some questions about his/her recent activities. If the patient has a high temperature the physician may take a small sample of fluid from a bursa near the affected body part. The sample will be tested for bacteria, and perhaps also crystals. If the patient does not get better after treatment the doctor may carry out further tests so that he/she can eliminate the possibility that the symptoms might not be due to something else. These may include an x-ray, to make sure no bones are broken or fractured. Blood tests, to check for rheumatoid arthritis. A CT scan or MRI scan to see if there is a torn tendon.

Non Surgical Treatment

The patient with retrocalcaneal bursitis should be instructed to apply ice to the posterior heel and ankle in the acute period of the bursitis. Icing can be performed several times a day, for 15-20 minutes each. Some clinicians also advocate the use of contrast baths. Gradual progressive stretching of the Achilles tendon may help relieve impingement on the subtendinous bursa and can be performed in the following manner. Stand in front of a wall, with the affected foot flat on the floor. Lean forward toward the wall until a gentle stretching is felt within the ipsilateral Achilles tendon. Maintain the stretch for 20-60 seconds and then relax. Perform the stretches with the knee extended and then again with the knee flexed. To maximize the benefit of the stretching program, repeat the above steps for several stretches per set, several times daily. Avoid ballistic (ie, abrupt, jerking) stretches. Other treatment options are microcurrent therapy and corticosteriod injection into the retrocalcaneal bursa. If conservation treatment fails then surgery is indicated.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is rarely done strictly for treatment of a bursitis. If any underlying cause is the reason, this may be addressed surgically. During surgery for other conditions, a bursa may be seen and removed surgically.

Prevention

Because many soft tissue conditions are caused by overuse, the best treatment is prevention. It is important to avoid or modify the activities that cause problems. Underlying conditions such as leg length differences, improper position or poor technique in sports or work must be corrected. Be aware of potential overuse or injury in your daily activities and change your lifestyle to prevent problems. Otherwise, problems may persist or occur repeatedly. Following are some ways you can avoid future problems. Wear walking or jogging shoes that provide good support. High-top shoes provide support for people with ankle problems. Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly. Wear heel cups or other shoe inserts as recommended by your doctor. Exercise on level, graded surfaces.

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