Bursitis…in the Foot?

Posted by on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

If you hear someone complaining, “Oh, my bursitis hurts so much today!” you may expect them to be talking about a shoulder, elbow, or knee problem (unless you don’t know what bursitis is at all, in which case you may be expecting nothing but more confusion in the conversation–don’t worry, we’ll explain it all in a moment). Don’t settle for the ordinary, though–you can have bursitis in your foot, too. Yes, nothing is sacred.

So let’s dive into the wonderful world of bursitis!

If someone said, “Oh, my bursitis hurts so much today! I’d have no idea what they meant.” What is bursitis? I am so glad you asked. Throughout the human body, there are small, fluid filled sacs called bursa. These act almost like cushions or ball bearings–they allow the joints and bones to roll and move without rubbing against each other and creating painful wear and friction.

However, overuse of a joint or an injury can cause inflammation in a bursa. The sac fills with excess fluid, and that puts pressure on the surrounding tissues. Suddenly movement becomes painful and more difficult.

How on Earth does this affect my foot? As always, bursitis in the foot occurs in a particularly exciting way. The foot starts out with only one bursa, located between the heel bone and Achilles tendon. The bursa acts keeps the tendon from rubbing against the bone as you walk.

However, all the steps we take all day puts our feet through quite an ordeal. As little traumas occur, the body will produce bursa in these spots to try to protect damaged areas. If the damage gets to be too much, though, the bursa can become inflamed and painful as well.

Here are some places on the foot where bursa can form and bursitis can follow:

  • Hammertoes – If you have a hammertoe, bursa can form as the bent toe rubs against the top of a shoes, which can then lead to inflammation and bursitis.
  • Bunion - It’s the same as hammer toes. The bunion, or protrusion that has formed below your big toe, will rub against shoes, causing bursitis.
  • “Pump Bump” - Blisters on the back of your heel from rigid shoes are bad enough, but bursa can also form if there’s enough irritation. It gets its catchy little name from women’s pumps, where there aren’t any straps or supports, so her heel rises in and out of the shoe with each step. Irritation=bursa=bursitis.
  • Forefoot bursitis – This covers pretty much the whole area of the ball of your foot and occurs if you do a lot of high-impact activity that pounds your forefoot–running, dancing, jumping. If you have a lot of pain on the ball of your foot, though, bursitis is only one possible answer–it could also be a neuroma, sesamoiditis, or metatarsalgia. To get a correct diagnosis, see a podiatrist at the Center for…
  • Achilles Tendon Bursitis (Retrocalcaneal Bursitis) – Just like forefoot bursitis, this can also affect runners (read one runner’s story here). This is another tricky one to diagnose, as people often think this pain on the back of the heel is Achilles tendonitis. Sportsinjuryclinic.net suggests you can tell it’s bursitis if you squeeze both sides of your heel and feel a kind of “spongy resistance.” The best way to know for sure, though is to have a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) diagnose it so you can figure out the best way to deal with it.

So what DO I do if I have bursitis on my foot? Ice will help immediately with the pain and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories will help with the, well, inflammation. If the bursitis is related to wearing bad shoes–those pointy toed stilettos that cause hammertoes and bunions, the pumps that cause “pump bump”–then stop wearing them! If it is on the ball of your foot and comes from high impact activities, take a break and try different activities. A podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) can also fit you with orthotics or metatarsal pads that will take some of the pressure off your foot. A podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) may choose to drain fluid from the bursa in question or give a cortisone injection to relieve pain. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.

It’s amazing the things the human body comes up with. Here are all those nice little bursa, popping up to try to protect your feet like you protect your personal info from hackers, but alas, we persist in damaging behavior that then thwarts the well-intentioned bursa. If you suspect you have bursitis, or any other foot issue, contact us at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine to ask the questions that will help get you started. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.

If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine LaiDr. Nadia Levy, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.