Treating Heel Pain: Bursitis
Bursitis is the inflammation of the small fluid-filled pads, or bursae, that act as cushions among your bones and the tendons and muscles near your joints. Bursitis occurs when the bursa become inflamed, and often occurs in joints that perform frequent and repetitive motion.
The foot only contains one naturally occurring bursal sac between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone, which protects the Achilles from the pressure against the heel bone during ambulation. However, shoes may put pressure on this bursa. The bursa might also incur trauma from walking on hard ground. And, though they are not naturally occurring, bursa sacs can also form, and become inflamed, in other parts of the foot, including the bottom of the heel, and the metatarsal plate, the outside of the foot below the fifth toe, and so on.
There are a variety of treatments for bursitis of the heel. Bursitis on the bottom of your heel (which is called infracalcaneal bursitis) is common in heels with thinning fat pads. Gel heel cushions or custom made orthotics (that have a horse-shoe cut and extra foam in the heel) can be lifesavers in reducing the pain. For bursitis of the posterior heel (retrocalcaneal bursitis), try to avoid going barefoot and to reduce the stress on the Achilles tendon by not over flexing your heel – the tighter your Achilles becomes, the more you compress the bursa sacs of the posterior heel. Heel lifts can help this, or wearing shoes with elevated heels (note that this method is not sanctioning high heels, as high heels can provide little comfort or support and usually are tight in the areas where your bursitis is most inflamed). Products such as AirHeel made by Aircast can help massage the bottom and back of the heel, helping to decrease pain.
In addition to being aware of foot-wear and inserts, be sure to modify your activity level to reduce the pain initially. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and icing twice a day for 20 minute periods can help reduce the swell that leads to heel pain. Cortisone injections (more powerful anti-inflammatory medications) can be considered if your symptoms are persistent. After the swelling and pain has receded, ask your podiatrist about working with a physical therapist to strengthen the affected area in order to avoid bursitis by using your muscles in a more safe and efficient manner.
If all these treatment methods fail, surgery may be the best option to excise a painful bursa (note that this is in rare cases). Consult Dr. Murray and Dr. Chang for the best treatment method for your individual needs.
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