Infracalcaneal bursitis is inflammation of a bursa—a fluid-filled sac—below your calcaneus, or heel bone. Bursae are situated in various locations throughout your body where friction between tissues commonly occurs, and these sacs are designed to help reduce this friction and prevent pain. Repetitive movements or prolonged and excessive pressure are the most common causes of bursal inflammation, though traumatic injury may also cause this painful problem. Indeed, your body sometimes creates bursal sacs in response to trauma or tissue damage. Infracalcaneal bursitis can sometimes be difficult to differentiate from plantar fasciosis—another condition that causes pain below the heel. The key difference is that infracalcaneal bursitis tends to be worse at the end of the day whereas plantar fascia pain tends to be worse in the morning, immediately upon waking.
Infracalcaneal bursitis can significantly affect your quality of life and your ability to perform your activities of daily living, due to pain and impaired gait. Inflammation of the bursal sac under your heel bone occurs because the bursa is abnormally stressed or strained in some way or bears excessive pressure for prolonged periods. Constant pressure and friction from footwear is a common cause of this health problem, and any treatment plan addressing infracalcaneal bursitis should include recommendations for footwear to avoid or use. Infracalcaneal bursitis may be diagnosed in several ways, including palpation, or light pressure applied to your affected area. If your heel pain has existed for an extended period, X-ray imaging studies may reveal localized calcification in your infracalcaneal bursa, though this is not always the case. MRI images are sometimes used as a diagnostic tool for this health problem, though MRI studies are considered unnecessary for diagnosis in many cases.
Causes and Symptoms
Your feet are extremely resilient and are designed to stand up to the pressures of day-to-day living. In some cases, though, foot structures may break down when subjected to chronic stress associated with prolonged periods of weight-bearing activity on concrete, asphalt, or other hard surfaces (especially when your footwear does not allow for appropriate weight distribution). Foot problems, including infracalcaneal bursitis, are often exacerbated by poorly designed footwear, and pressure, impact, and shear forces can damage your feet over time. Bursal sacs are intended to minimize this damage, but sometimes the bursa itself becomes inflamed. A rapid increase in physical activity levels or thinning of the heel’s protective fat pad are factors that may contribute to infracalcaneal bursitis. Other possible causes of infracalcaneal bursitis include blunt force trauma, acute or chronic infection, and arthritic conditions.
The following factors may increase your risk of experiencing bursitis, including infracalcaneal bursitis:
- Participating in contact sports
- Having a previous history of bursitis in any joint
- Poor conditioning
- Exposure to cold weather
- Heel striking when running, especially in conventional running shoes with heel elevation
Common signs and symptoms associated with infracalcaneal bursitis include:
- Pain or ache in the middle part of the underside of your heel
- Pain or discomfort that increases with prolonged weight-bearing activities
- Pain and swelling under the heel
- Redness under the heel
One of the most effective treatments for infracalcaneal bursitis is to temporarily avoid weight-bearing activities that put stress or strain on your heel bone. PRICE (protection, rest, hot/cold contrast compresses, compression, and elevation) is another good acute management technique for this foot problem. Changing your footwear is an effective long-term prevention and treatment tool for infracalcaneal bursitis. Footwear that possess a flat support base, a sufficiently wide toe box to accommodate natural toe splay, and a flexible sole are best for preventing and managing infracalcaneal bursitis. An integrated approach to this problem usually involves the use of padded socks that help reduce pressure, friction, and inflammation in your affected area. Natural anti-inflammatory agents can also be helpful in quelling inflammation, reducing pain, and improving treatment times for infracalcaneal bursitis. In rare cases, more aggressive treatment methods may be required, such as cortisone injections or surgery to drain the bursal sac.
-Dr. Ray McClanahan, DPM, Northwest Foot and Ankle