Physical Therapy For Bursitis Of The Feet

Overview

Retrocalcaneal bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) at the back of the heel bone (calcaneus). The retrocalcaneal bursa is located between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone and is designed to reduce friction between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone. During contraction of the calf muscle, tension is generated through the Achilles tendon and it rubs against the retrocalcaneal bursa. When there is excessive friction due to repetitive rubbing of the tendon against the bursa or high impact force translating through the Achilles tendon, irritation and inflammation of the bursa may occur. The inflammation can also be aggravated by pressure, such as when athletes wear tight-fitting shoes. This condition is often mistaken for Achilles tendinitis but it can also occur in conjunction with Achilles tendinitis.

Causes

As ligaments and tendons stretch and tear, blood from ruptured blood vessels becomes trapped in the local tissues. As the trapped blood clots up, it sticks the tissues together creating adhesions. Adhesions cause pain, inflammation and restricted movement because the layers of tissue that used to slide smoothly across one another now adhere and snap which interferes with normal functioning. It is essential to break up clotted blood as quickly as possible to prevent adhesions and scar tissue from forming.

Symptoms

Pain and tenderness usually develop slowly over time. Applying pressure to the back of the heel can cause pain. Wearing shoes may become uncomfortable. The back of the heel may feel achy. Pain is exacerbated when the foot is pointed or flexed, because the swollen bursa can get squeezed. A person with retrocalcaneal bursitis may feel pain when standing on their toes. Fever or chills in addition to other bursitis symptoms can be a sign of septic bursitis. Though uncommon, septic retrocalcaneal bursitis is a serious condition, and patients should seek medical care to ensure the infection does not spread.

Diagnosis

When you suspect you have retrocalcaneal bursitis, your foot doctor will begin by taking a complete history of the condition. A physical exam will also be performed. X-rays are usually taken on the first visit as well to determine the shape of the heel bone, joint alignment in the rearfoot, and to look for calcium deposits in the Achilles tendon. The history, exam and x-rays may sufficient for your foot surgeon to get an idea of the treatment that will be required. In some cases, it may be necessary to get an ultrasound or MRI to further evaluate the Achilles tendon or its associated bursa. While calcium deposits can show up on xray, the inflammation in the tendon and bursa will show up much better on ultrasound and MRI. The results of these tests can usually be explained on the first visit. You can then have a full understanding of how the problem started, what you can do to treat prevent it from getting worse/ You will also know which treatment will be most helpful in making your heel pain go away.

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.

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.

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