Joints require coordinated action to function properly—muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons moving in concert, with or against each other, to achieve movement. All those systems pulling, pushing, and rubbing can cause wear, tear, and pain from constant friction.
That’s where your bursae come in. These fluid-filled, jelly-like sacs are strategically positioned around key joints to provide critical cushioning and keep friction to a minimum. Most of the time they do a fabulous job, but like any other tissue they can become swollen, inflamed and damaged—a painful condition known as bursitis. This problem most frequently occurs in shoulders, elbows, and hips, but your feet are not immune—it is also a common cause of heel pain, particularly in older adults.
Common Causes and Symptoms
Bursitis is typically a result of joint overuse due to repetitive action. For example, baseball pitchers frequently succumb to bursitis in the shoulder. When the problem is heel pain, it can usually be traced to a lot of running or jumping from a sport like basketball. However,other causes are possible, including bacterial infection.
Commonly present symptoms include pain, swelling, redness, and possibly even warm skin in the affected area. Because bursae are fluid-filled sacs, they can become very tender and may hurt more when you push or bear weight on the area, and because they’re designed to help joints function properly, you may notice stiffness or aches, especially when you try to move.
Bursting Pain’s Bubble
Fortunately, bursitis is usually not progressive and your heel pain will go away in time simply with proper rest and conservative care. Limit weight-bearing activity, temporarily discontinue any activities that may have led to your discomfort, and in the meantime use ice or (if your doctor approves) over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen to limit pain.
If you need a little extra help, or your pain just won’t go away, there are a number of other simple measures we can help you with. For tough pain, an injection of cortisone can bring quick relief and usually only has to be administered one time. We may also recommend temporary use of assistive technologies, such as a heel wedge insert or even a walking cane, to help keep pressure off your heel long enough for it to recover. Antiobiotics may help if the swelling is due to a bacterial infection.
In rare situations, bursae may be surgically drained or even removed. However, this is usually not necessary.
Keeping the Problem from Coming Back
If you find yourself frequently afflicted by heel pain related to bursitis, there are a number of lifestyle modifications you can make to potentially prevent the condition or at least minimize the frequency and duration of recurrence.
Try to limit repetitive, high-impact activity on your heel and joints by taking regular breaks, using good form when playing or lifting, and if necessary mixing some low-impact activities into your workout routine. Stretching and strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint can also help protect the bursa sac against further irritation—we can advise you on some great physical therapy exercises to try.
When to Call
When heel pain is disabling or just won’t go away even after a week or more of rest, it’s time to get expert aid. Whether your heel pain is caused by bursitis or another condition, the doctors of Family Foot and Ankle Center are here to help. Contact us through this website or give us a call at (513) 728-4800 or (859) 282-1572 to set up an appointment today.