Indicators Of Bursitis Of The Feet

Overview

Whenever tissues rub against one another, a bursa forms to allow for smooth gliding. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac and occurs normally throughout the body. Only a few cell layers thick, a bursa is filled with a lubricating fluid. However, when irritated, a bursa can become markedly thickened and painful. This is often referred to as bursitis. The retrocalcaneal bursa is positioned to allow the Achilles tendon to glide over the back part (posterior aspect) of the heel bone. When this bone becomes enlarged, inflammation of the retrocalcaneal bursa occurs. This inflammation results in exquisite tenderness along the posterior aspect of the heel.

Causes

Although rare, bursitis also may be caused by an infection, known as septic bursitis. This is a serious medical condition that requires antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent its spread to other points in the body or the bloodstream. Septic bursitis may cause the back of the ankle to become red or hot. The person may also get the chills or fever and may feel sick and tired. Typically this type of bursitis would be suspected if there has been any history of an open wound in the area, such as a blister.

Symptoms

Pain and tenderness are common symptoms. If the affected joint is close to the skin, as with the shoulder, knee, elbow, or Achilles tendon, swelling and redness are seen and the area may feel warm to the touch. The bursae around the hip joint are deeper, and swelling is not obvious. Movement may be limited and is painful. In the shoulder, it may be difficult to raise the arm out from the side of the body. Putting on a jacket or combing the hair becomes a troublesome activity. In acute bursitis symptoms appear suddenly, with chronic bursitis, pain, tenderness, and limited movement reappear after exercise or strain.

Diagnosis

During the physical examination of a patient with calcaneal bursitis, the physician should keep the following considerations in mind. Swelling and redness of the posterior heel (the pump bump) may be clearly apparent. The inflamed area, which may be slightly warm to the touch, is generally tender to palpation. Careful examination can help the clinician to distinguish whether the inflammation is posterior to the Achilles tendon (within the subcutaneous calcaneal bursa) or anterior to the tendon (within the subtendinous calcaneal bursa). Differentiating Achilles tendinitis/tendinosis from bursitis may be impossible. At times, the 2 conditions co-exist. Isolated subtendinous calcaneal bursitis is characterized by tenderness that is best isolated by palpating just anterior to the medial and lateral edges of the distal Achilles tendon. Conversely, insertional Achilles tendinitis is notable for tenderness that is located slightly more distally, where the Achilles tendon inserts on the posterior calcaneus. A patient with plantar fasciitis has tenderness along the posterior aspect of the sole, but he/she should not have tenderness with palpation of the posterior heel or ankle. A patient with a complete avulsion or rupture of the Achilles tendon demonstrates a palpable defect in the tendon, weakness in plantarflexion, and a positive Thompson test on physical examination. During the Thompson test, the examiner squeezes the calf. The test is negative if this maneuver results in passive plantarflexion of the ankle, which would indicate that the Achilles tendon is at least partially intact.

Non Surgical Treatment

Rest and apply cold therapy or ice. Ice should not be applied directly to the skin as it may cause ice burns but wrap in a wet tea towel. Commercially available hot and cold packs are often more convenience than using ice. Taping the bursa with a donut shaped pad to take some of the pressure from footwear may help. A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication e.g. ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation. Applying electrotherapy such as ultrasound may reduce inflammation and swelling. A steroid injection followed by 48 hours rest may be given for persistent cases. If the bursitis is particularly bad and does not respond to conservative treatment then surgery is also an option.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery. Though rare, particularly challenging cases of retrocalcaneal bursitis might warrant a bursectomy, in which the troublesome bursa is removed from the back of the ankle. Surgery can be effective, but operating on this boney area can cause complications, such as trouble with skin healing at the incision site. In addition to removing the bursa, a doctor may use the surgery to treat another condition associated with the retrocalcaneal bursitis. For example, a surgeon may remove a sliver of bone from the back of the heel to alter foot mechanics and reduce future friction. Any bone spurs located where the Achilles attaches to the heel may also be removed. Regardless of the conservative treatment that is provided, it is important to wait until all pain and swelling around the back of the heel is gone before resuming activities. This may take several weeks. Once symptoms are gone, a patient may make a gradual return to his or her activity level before their bursitis symptoms began. Returning to activities that cause friction or stress on the bursa before it is healed will likely cause bursitis symptoms to flare up again.

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