How Does Heel Bursitis Develop and What Can You Do About It?

heel bursitis

Story at-a-glance -

  • There are several symptoms associated with heel bursitis, and the most prominent indicator is pain in the back of the heel
  • Discover the symptoms, treatment and prevention of heel bursitis

There are many bursae located in your foot, but the ones located in the heel are more prone to injury. There are two types of heel bursitis you can develop:1

Posterior Achilles tendon bursitis: This condition affects the bursa located between the skin of the back of the heel and the Achilles tendon. It is also known as retrocalcaneal bursitis.2

Anterior Achilles tendon bursitis: Also known as retromalleolar bursitis, it affects the bursa located in front of the Achilles tendon to the heel bone.

Symptoms of Heel Bursitis You Shouldn’t Ignore

There are several symptoms associated with heel bursitis, and the most prominent indicator is pain in the back of the heel. Redness, swelling and warmth may develop as well. If the condition becomes chronic, the area may eventually become hard and scar-like after a few months.3

You’ll find that wearing certain shoes can become uncomfortable, and even painful at times. One final indicator is increasing pain when doing physically demanding movements, such as running uphill.4

Treatment Options for Heel Bursitis

Rest is one of the first recommended treatment options for heel bursitis. This is done by relieving pressure from your heel as much as you can, such as lifting your heel above a pillow before sleeping. If you absolutely need to go somewhere despite your condition, consider putting felt heel pads on your shoe to help relieve pressure from the heel. Other items such as a gel padding may work as well.

You may also consider using shoes that have special materials to minimize the strain added on your heel.5 In rare cases, heel bursitis may need to be treated with surgery if natural healing methods and physical therapy are ineffective. There are two methods that you may undergo:6

Aspiration: In this method, a needle will be inserted into the inflamed bursa to drain the fluid buildup.

Bursa removal: As the name implies, a surgeon will remove the bursa to prevent any inflammation from occurring again.

Heel bone modification: In addition to removing the bursa, the surgeon may make some minor modifications to your heel bone by removing a very small part of it. This alters the way friction is created in the heel, helping prevent further irritation or inflammation once the bursa has been removed.

An Exercise That Can Help With Heel Bursitis

Physical therapy is a crucial part in treating heel bursitis. Not only does it help with pain relief, but it also helps with strengthening the heel area to prevent future inflammation. Medscape has a stretching exercise that you can try. However, before making an attempt, be sure to visit a licensed physical therapist first, as exercising without professional guidance can worsen your condition:7

"1. Stand in front of a wall, with the affected foot flat on the floor. Lean forward toward the wall until a gentle stretching is felt within the ipsilateral Achilles tendon.

2. Maintain the stretch for 20 to 60 seconds and then relax.

3. Perform the stretches with the knee extended and then again with the knee flexed.

4. To maximize the benefit of the stretching program, repeat the above steps for several stretches per set, several times daily. Avoid ballistic (i.e., abrupt, jerking) stretches.”

Heel Bursitis Can Be Confused With Achilles Tendinitis

Your Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the back of the heel. Due to its close proximity with the bursae in your heel, it may be confused with bursitis when it becomes inflamed. However, there are ways to spot if it is either tendinitis or bursitis.

One easy way of identifying Achilles tendinitis is pain and stiffness of the actual Achilles tendon, which is located just above the heel, as opposed to the heel bursae, which are located at the heel itself. You may also notice the Achilles tendon becoming thicker. If however, you felt a sudden “pop” in the back of your heel, you may have torn your Achilles tendon. If this happens, visit a doctor immediately.8


Bursitis: An Introduction

What Is Bursitis?

Bursitis Types

Hip Bursitis

Elbow Bursitis

Knee Bursitis

Shoulder Bursitis

Heel Bursitis

Septic Bursitis

Bursitis Causes

Bursitis Symptoms

Bursitis Treatment

Bursitis Prevention

Bursitis Diet

Bursitis FAQ

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