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.
The inflammation of a bursa can result from any process that irritates or compresses it. The irritation causes the affected bursa to produce too much fluid and swell. In cases of traumatic injury, injured capillaries can leak blood into the bursa and cause it to swell.
Unlike Achilles tendinitis, which tends to manifest itself slightly higher on the lower leg, Achilles tendon bursitis usually creates pain and irritation at the back of the heel. Possible signs of bursitis of the Achilles tendon include difficulty to rise on toes. Standing on your toes or wearing high heels may increase the heel pain. Inflammation and tenderness. The skin around your heel can become swollen and warm to the touch. Redness may be visible. Pain in the heel. Pain tends to become more prominent when walking, running, or touching the inflamed area. Stiffness. The back of your ankle may feel a little stiff due to the swelling of the bursa.
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
Cold compresses can help reduce the initial swelling and pain in acute (short-term but severe) soft tissue conditions. Cold therapy is usually most effective during the first 48 hours after swelling begins. Guidelines for cold therapy include. Use a cold gel pack, a bag filled with ice cubes, or even a bag of frozen vegetables. Wrap the pack in a towel if the cold temperature is too painful. Place the cold pack over the area for 20 minutes, three to four times a day. Rub an ice cube over smaller painful areas for a short time. After 48 hours, or for chronic (long-term) pain, dry or moist heat may be more helpful than cold compresses. Follow these guidelines. Use a hot pack, a heating pad, or a damp towel heated in the microwave (make sure it's not too hot or it may burn your skin). Place a hot pack over the painful area for 15-20 minutes, three to four times a day. Never use analgesic creams or rubs with heat packs because the combination could severely burn your skin. Take a warm shower or bath.
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).