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Achilles Tendon Bursitis
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.
Posterior Achilles tendon bursitis occurs mainly in young women but can develop in men. Walking in a way that repeatedly presses the soft tissue behind the heel against the stiff back support of a shoe can cause or aggravate the bursitis. Shoes that taper sharply inward toward the posterior heel (such as high-heeled shoes) can cause irritating pressure that leads to the development of this bursitis.
Bursitis in the Heel
Any condition that puts extra strain on the Achilles tendon can cause anterior Achilles tendon bursitis. Injuries to the heel and diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis can also cause it.
When the bursa becomes inflamed after an injury, symptoms usually develop suddenly. When the bursa develops without an injury, symptoms may develop gradually. With both posterior and anterior Achilles tendon bursitis, symptoms usually include swelling and warmth at the back of the heel. A minimally red, swollen, tender spot develops on the back of the heel. When the inflamed bursa enlarges, it appears as a red lump under the skin of the heel and causes pain at and above the heel. If posterior Achilles tendon bursitis becomes chronic, the swelling may become hard, fluid-filled, and red or flesh-colored.
With anterior and posterior Achilles tendon bursitis, applying warm or cool compresses to the area and using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can temporarily relieve the pain and inflammation, as can injections of a corticosteroid/anesthetic mixture into the inflamed bursa. The doctor is careful not to inject the mixture into the tendon. After this treatment, the person should rest. When these treatments are not effective, part of the heel bone may need to be surgically removed.
With posterior Achilles tendon bursitis, treatment is aimed at reducing the inflammation and adjusting the foot’s position in the shoe to relieve pressure and motion on the back of the heel. Foam rubber or felt heel pads can be placed in the shoe to eliminate pressure by elevating the heel. Placing protective gel padding over the painful bursa or stretching the back part of the shoe and placing padding around the inflamed bursa may help. Sometimes a special shoe, such as a running shoe designed to stabilize the midsole heel, devices placed in the shoe (orthoses), or both can help to control abnormal foot and heel motion contributing to the posterior heel irritation. Other shoes have padding that reduces irritation to the posterior heel and Achilles tendon.
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