Plantar calcaneal bursitis is a medical condition in which there is inflammation of the plantar calcaneal bursa, a spongy fluid filled sac that cushions the fascia of the heel and the calcaneus (heel bone). It is characterized by swelling and tenderness of the central plantar heel area. It is sometimes called 'Policeman's heel'. It sometimes was, and should not be, confused with plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation of the plantar fascia and can affect any part of the foot.
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.
Some of the symptoms of bursitis in the heel, or retrocalcaneal bursitis, are as described below. Severe pain in the heel area of the foot, sometimes radiating to the ankle, associated with physical activities like walking, jogging and even on physical contact to the area. The physical signs of heel bursitis, which are noticeable in the heel area, are reddish discoloration of the skin that is warm to touch.
If heel pain has not responded to home treatment, X-rays may be ordered. These images can show deformities of the heel bone and bone spurs that have developed at the attachment of the Achilles. If there is swelling and/or pain that is slightly higher and within the Achilles tendon itself, an MRI may be ordered to determine if the tendon is simply inflamed or if there is a chronic tear on the tendon. Aspiration and lab tests. If a septic bursitis is highly suspected, a doctor may perform an aspiration, removing fluid from the bursa with a needle and syringe. In addition to relieving pressure and making the patient more comfortable, it provides a fluid sample that can be tested for infection.
Non Surgical Treatment
Caregivers may give you special shoe inserts with a cutout around the tender area. You may also be told to wear shoes with a reinforced heel counter. This will give better heel control. You may need other shoe inserts (wedges) to raise your heel so it does not press against the back of the shoe. You may also wear shoes that are open in the back, such as sandals that have no strap across the heel. You may use ibuprofen (eye-bu-PROH-fen) and acetaminophen (a-seet-a-MIN-oh-fen) medicine for your pain. These may be bought over-the-counter at drug or grocery stores. Do not take ibuprofen if you are allergic to aspirin. You may be given shots of medicine called steroids (STER-oids) to decrease inflammation. Caregivers may add local anesthesia (an-es-THEE-zah) to the steroids. This medicine helps decrease bursitis pain. Because these shots decrease swelling and pain, you may feel like your ankle is healed and that you can return to heavy exercise. It is important to not exercise until your caregiver says it is OK. You could make the bursitis worse if you exercise too soon. You may need surgery to remove the bursa or part of your ankle bone. Surgery is usually not necessary unless the bursitis is very bad and does not heal with other treatments. Your caregiver may want you to go to physical (FIZ-i-kal) therapy (THER-ah-pee). Physical therapists may use ultrasound to increase blood flow to the injured area. Caregivers may use massage to stretch the tissue and bring heat to the injury to increase blood flow. These and other treatments may help the bursitis heal faster. Exercises to stretch your Achilles tendon and make it stronger will be started after the bursitis has healed. You may gradually increase the amount of weight you put on your foot when caregivers say it is OK. You may be told to stop exercising if you feel any pain.
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).
Prevention can be accomplished by controlling your foot structure with good supportive shoes or arch supports. Pay attention to early signs of friction like blister formation. This tells you where the areas that are more likely to cause a bursa to form and subsequently a bursitis.