If you have pain in the back of your heel that gets worse after you've been walking for a long time, then you may have a condition called heel bursitis. It occurs when the bursa that acts as a cushion between your Achilles tendon and your heel bone becomes inflamed and sore. It's most common in athletes, but you can also get heel bursitis from wearing shoes that are too tight. Thankfully, heel bursitis typically goes away when you rest the affected leg and let the bursa heal on its own. To learn more about heel bursitis and how you can reduce the pain you feel from it, read on.
What Is Heel Bursitis?
The Achilles tendon on the back of your heel attaches the muscles in your calf to your heel bone, and it's protected from rubbing directly against your heel bone by a fluid-filled sac called the retrocalcaneal bursa. Unfortunately, the retrocalcaneal bursa can become irritated and inflamed if the Achilles tendon rubs against it too much, and this causes heel bursitis. The inflamed bursa will be painful, and it may be warm to the touch. Symptoms of heel bursitis typically become worse after you walk a long distance on the affected heel since this irritates the bursa even more.
What Causes Heel Bursitis?
Heel bursitis is typically caused by overuse since it happens when the Achilles tendon irritates the retrocalcaneal bursa faster than it can heal. Athletes who run and jump frequently like runners, basketball players, gymnasts, and dancers are prone to developing it. Increasing your level of activity, such as the distance you're running, too quickly makes you more likely to irritate the retrocalcaneal bursa.
Wearing shoes that don't fit properly can also lead to heel bursitis, even in non-athletes. Shoes that are too tight around the heel will press the Achilles tendon into the retrocalcaneal bursa, and it will also press the bursa into your heel bone. The pressure makes developing heel bursitis more likely, as it irritates the retrocalcaneal bursa more rapidly when you're walking.
How Do You Treat Heel Bursitis?
The most important part of treating heel bursitis is to rest the heel that hurts. Resting the heel will eliminate the irritation, giving it a chance to heal naturally. If you're an athlete, you'll need to take a break from training until you're able to work out without feeling any pain in your heel. While the bursa heals, you can apply ice to your heel periodically in order to reduce pain and swelling.
Switching shoes will help your bursitis heal more quickly. A shoe that fits loosely around the heel will reduce irritation. You can also switch to a show that's entirely open around the heel, such as a pair of sandals or clogs.
If your heel pain doesn't go away, schedule an appointment with an orthopedist in your area. An orthopedist can confirm that bursitis is the source of your heel pain, and can give you a steroid injection that helps reduce pain and swelling. In severe cases, surgery may be an option — this removes the inflamed bursa in order to entirely eliminate the pain you feel while walking. However, removing the bursa will expose the Achilles tendon and allow it to rub directly against your heel bone, which can quickly irritate it. Surgery should only be considered when your heel pain is severe and your bursitis isn't healing on its own.
Overall, resting your heel is the best way to treat the pain from heel bursitis — it allows the inflammation to go away naturally. If your heel pain is so severe that it's interfering with your ability to walk at all, schedule an appointment with an orthopedist in your area and have your heel examined — your pain may be due to another cause or your bursitis may need steroid injections or surgery. For more information, contact a heel pain doctor near you.