What is a foot bursectomy/surgical removal?

Your heels have fluid-filled sacs surrounding them to cushion your feet when you walk. These sacs are called bursae. Infection, injury or overuse can damage the bursae and make them swell. This is a condition called retrocalcaneal bursitis. It becomes painful to make normal movements. Rest, pain medication and other conservative treatments often help the bursa heal. When these treatments don't work, you may need a bursectomy.

A bursectomy is a surgical procedure in which the doctor removes one or more of these painful sacs from the space around your heel. As you heal, new bursae form in its place. The new bursae are less likely to become irritated. That helps you move without pain.

What to expect from a foot bursectomy/surgical removal

Doctors often do bursectomies using an arthroscope — a tiny camera on a metal tube with a light attached. This tool lets doctors see your joint without having to cut your heel all the way open. Instead, they make a few small cuts to insert the camera and specialized tools.

You're given an anesthetic before the surgery to prevent pain. Doctors may use local or general anesthesia for the procedure. Once you're numb or asleep, the doctors make the incisions and insert the tools. The tools detach and remove the bursae and any scar tissue. Afterwards, the surgeons close the incisions with stitches and bandages. They may also add a compression bandage. It can reduce swelling and prevent blood clots.

The entire procedure usually takes between half an hour and two hours. The incisions heal in a few days, but full recovery of the joint takes several weeks. Your doctor may restrict your activities to make sure the heel heals properly.

Common conditions requiring foot bursectomy/surgical removal

Retrocalcaneal bursitis is the condition that often requires a heel bursectomy. Some risk factors for having this condition are:

  • Age
  • Gout
  • Obesity
  • Arthritis
  • Intense workouts
  • Other inflammatory conditions
  • Work or hobbies that involve repetitive motions, such as jumping or running

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