How to Overcome Painful Bursitis in the Heel

woman with pain in her heel after wearing high heeled shoesHeel pain can be a nuisance, but if left untreated, it may become severely painful or even disabling. There are various causes of heel pain, but many are due to overuse—such as bursitis. Fortunately, our methods are designed to ease your current symptoms and stop heel pain from coming back.

Common Causes of Heel Bursitis

Heel bursitis, also called retrocalcaneal bursitis, is an inflammation of the fluid-filled sac at the back of the heel (bursa). The bursa acts as a cushion between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone, allowing the tissues in the joint to move freely. Repeated walking, running, or jumping can irritate the bursa and cause severe pain at the back of the heel. Factors that place patients at higher risk of bursitis include:

  • A sudden increase in activity level
  • Starting an intense workout schedule without proper rest
  • Wearing high heels
  • Arthritis or auto-immune conditions
  • Age of 65 or more
  • Exercising in shoes that don’t have adequate support

Heel Bursitis Symptoms

Symptoms of retrocalcaneal bursitis vary from patient to patient but often include:

  • Aching pain in the heel that worsens with physical activity
  • A heel that is red, swollen, or tender to the touch
  • Severe pain when standing on your toes or when your ankle is bent upward
  • Inability to put weight on your foot
  • Pain in your calf muscles
  • Stiff or sore ankles and shins
  • Red patches on the back of the ankle
  • A cracking or popping sound when you flex your foot

Non-Invasive Treatments for Heel Bursitis

Surgery is rarely needed in cases of bursitis, but the likelihood of a long recovery increases the more treatment is delayed. You should see a podiatrist if your pain is getting worse instead of better, you have trouble walking, or you need to know how to keep exercising without the problem flaring up in the future. Treatments for heel bursitis are centered on decreasing irritation in and around the sac. Most cases can be resolved through:

  • Rest. You may need to take a break from all high-impact activities for at least a week, including walking. Rest and elevate your foot as much as possible to let your heels recover.
  • Anti-inflammatories. Ice packs applied to the back of the foot can help bring down swelling and ease the pain, primarily when used in conjunction with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Footwear changes. The wrong shoes can place too much pressure on your heel, flatten your arches, or strain the Achilles tendon. Your podiatrist can advise you on well-fitting footwear or custom orthotics to compensate for biomechanical problems that stress your lower limb.
  • Stretches. Specific stretches can help loosen a tight Achilles tendon and prevent the tendon from “squeezing” the bursa so tightly.
  • Laser therapy. Our MLS laser therapy can ease pain and reduce inflammation in the heel.
  • Ultrasound-guided injections. We use ultrasound technology to deliver medication and steroids precisely where they are needed, with minimal risk of complications.
  • Casting. Bursitis and Achilles tendinitis often go hand-in-hand. If your tendon is inflamed, you may need to wear a cast on the ankle for several weeks.
  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy can gently stretch the Achilles tendon and improve flexibility in the ankle, preventing bursitis from returning.
  • Exercise modification. Exercise is highly effective in preventing future foot pain, but only if done correctly. Our podiatrists can suggest ways to reduce the strain of activity on the feet, such as gradually building up the intensity and duration of workouts.

Our Podiatry Team Can Get You Back on Your Feet

One thing is sure with bursitis: it will get worse if you ignore it. The sooner you visit our Idaho podiatry team, the sooner you can start your treatment. Simply request an appointment online or speak with our staff in Twin Falls or Burley by calling (208) 731-6321.