Our feet are composed of many moving parts, and an injury like Achilles bursitis can impair our daily life. Achilles bursitis can be caused by badly-fitting shoes or excessive walking, meaning the condition can happen to anyone. That is why staying informed should be a top priority for anyone who values their freedom of mobility. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Achilles bursitis’s causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Those experiencing pain at the back of the foot, just above the heel, may have a condition known as a bursitis Achilles tendon. Also called retrocalcaneal bursitis, the disease affects a small sack that sits between the Achilles tendon and heel bone, known as the bursa.
The bursa is a thin pad that cushions the tendon and bone. However, the bursa can become inflamed, causing the symptoms such as pain and tenderness. Symptoms can develop gradually or immediately, however an untreated bursitis Achilles tendon can have long-lasting effects.
Types of Achilles Bursitis
There are two separate sacs located in the heel region. Depending on which of these becomes inflamed, you may experience one of two different varieties of Achilles bursitis.
1. Anterior Achilles Tendon Bursitis
Also known as pre-Achilles bursitis, this form of the condition affects the thin pad located between the heel bone and Achilles tendon. Over time, the inflammation of the bursa can spread, affecting the entire heel.
2. Posterior Achilles Tendon Bursitis
Sometimes called retro Achilles bursitis, this variety affects the outer pad, located between the Achilles tendon and the skin. If left untreated, this outer bursa can become hard and scar-like.
Achilles Bursitis Common Causes
Achilles bursitis is caused by everyday activities that are part of any healthy lifestyle. Walking, running, jumping, or climbing hills could be the culprit.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should cut regular exercise from your daily routine. Many cases of Achilles bursitis are due to an increase of physical activity without the proper conditioning. Simply put, older adults looking to stay active should increase exercise duration and intensity gradually.
Another common cause of achilles bursitis are improperly fitted shoes. High heels are one common source of the condition, but Achilles bursitis can also be caused by shoes that cut sharply into the heel. A good rule of thumb is to avoid shoes that cause prolonged discomfort, especially in the heel region. And remember that a good pair of insoles is crucial to ensuring your shoes fit properly, especially if you have pre-existing foot conditions.
Symptoms of Achilles Bursitis
Achilles bursitis is generally accompanied by pain and tenderness in the heel region, as well as visible swelling. Pain becomes more pronounced when walking uphill or standing on tiptoes. In addition, each of the two types of the condition come with their own specific symptoms.
Anterior Bursitis Symptoms
Symptoms may develop suddenly when resulting from injury or gout, but when posterior bursitis develops due to other conditions, onset will be gradual. Common symptoms include:
Pain, swelling, and warmth at the back of the heel
Difficulty wearing shoes while walking
A small red spot on the back of the heel that is tender to the touch
Swelling that may spread to other parts of the heel
Posterior Bursitis Symptoms
When the condition affects the outer portion of the bursa, a number of short- and long-term effects take hold. Common symptoms of posterior bursitis include:
Pain, swelling, and warmth at the back of the heel
A top layer of skin on the heel that has worn away
Formation of a flesh-colored nodule in the area
Development of scar tissue
Achilles Bursitis or Tendonitis
Because of their similar symptoms, Achilles bursitis is often misdiagnosed as tendonitis. While each of these conditions can cause pain and swelling in the heel region, tendonitis is the result of an inflamed ligament, while bursitis is an inflamed bursa. The two are related, however. If left untreated, Achilles bursitis can cause tendonitis and vice versa.
Getting the Right Diagnosis
In many cases, a physical exam performed at home, as well as a bit of ice and compression can clear up Achilles bursitis. However, a formal diagnosis from your doctor is recommended.
Aside from a more thorough physical exam, your doctor will use X-rays and MRI scans to look for a deformed heel bone or signs of inflammation.
Achilles Bursitis Treatment
When seeking achilles tendon bursitis treatment, begin with simple steps. First, address any obvious source of heel discomfort, such as footwear or a specific physical activity. Moving forward, rest and apply an ice pack to relieve symptoms.
If your Achilles bursitis persists, seeking other forms of treatment may become necessary. Consult your doctor for an individualized treatment plan.
Exercise and Physical Therapy
When using exercise to treat Achilles bursitis at home, gradually stretch the Achilles tendon. This will ease pressure on the bursa and allow for a faster and less painful recovery process.
This exercise requires a sturdy wall and about three minutes of your day. Start facing the wall, with your affected foot about 18 inches away. Lean forward, bracing against the wall, and keep your foot flat on the floor. Incorporating this stretch into your daily routine will keep the Achilles tendon limber and strong.
NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can relieve symptoms and speed your recovery from Achilles bursitis. Since many types of NSAIDs are available over the counter and come with manageable side effects, they are a good step toward self-treatment.
In many cases, a change of footwear can do wonders for Achilles bursitis. However, if pain persists after tossing out heel-pinching shoes, the next step is turning to foot prosthetics. Luckily, there is a wide range of options to consider.
Insoles are an easy way to make the shoes you already own more comfortable, while protecting you from Achilles bursitis. (See Product)
Insoles come in all shapes and sizes, and so beginning your search with a quality collection of heel-friendly insoles is a good idea. They work by adding support to the foot to relieve pain and correct gait abnormalities.
Easy to slip into the back of any shoe, heel wedges give your heel the support it needs to overcome Achilles bursitis. They come in a variety of materials like natural rubber and silicone, which offer different kinds of support.
Pre-made orthotics offer the same comfort and support as custom orthotics, but are much more cost-effective and convenient. ( See Product)
In rare cases, surgery will be necessary to relieve the symptoms of Achilles bursitis. The procedure is relatively simple and involves removing the offending bursa completely. While effective, a bursectomy can cause complications in the area, such as trouble healing at the site of incision.
Achilles Bursitis Recovery Time
After two to three weeks of at-home treatment, Achilles bursitis symptoms should dissipate, leaving you free to resume a healthy, active lifestyle. If the condition does not improve during this timeframe, or starts to worsen, contact your doctor.
If you are not sure whether or not your bursitis is healed, wait until redness and swelling has disappeared completely before resuming regular activity. Overexertion during the healing process can cause the bursitis to spread.
Preventing Achilles Bursitis
While the causes of achilles bursitis are many and varied, the solutions are just as plentiful. As we age, the bones and tendons in our feet take a beating, so giving them proper care today is the first step toward a healthier tomorrow. Proper footwear, orthotics, and regular exercise ease the symptoms of Achilles bursitis and are important for long-term foot health.
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