Identifying the Culprit: Tendonitis or Bursitis

Robert G. Parker
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Dr. Parker is a podiatrist and surgeon in Houston, TX who has been helping patients for more than 40 years.

The 39 Steps isn’t just a short walking distance—it’s a classic Alfred Hitchcock movie that has been transformed into a fun, four-man production. If you like murder mysteries and silly humor, this show by the A.D. Players in Houston may be for you! It’s playing every Thursday through Sunday evening from now until Oct. 5. Of course, taking 39 steps may feel like a long distance if you have tendonitis or bursitis.

The two conditions, while similar, affect different structures and need accurate diagnoses to help treat them. What’s the difference? Tendonitis is inflammation, thickening, and stiffening of a tendon. In your heel, this refers to the Achilles tendon. Bursitis is inflammation in a bursa. This fluid-filled sac sits between soft tissues and your bones, acting as a protective cushion. However, excessive pressure on the bursa can irritate it. Since a bursa sits between your Achilles tendon and your heel bone, it’s easy to mistake heel bursitis for tendonitis.

So how can you tell if you have tendonitis or bursitis? It isn’t easy—they are very similar. Tendonitis tends to affect a large area of the Achilles. You feel pain and stiffness along the connector, particularly in the morning or after you’ve been exercising. You may have swelling behind the ankle and the affected area will be tender and warm to the touch. You may have difficulty rising up on your toes as well.

Bursitis is usually painful lower down in the heel. The area around the back of your heel bone will be red and swollen. The spot will ache when you press on it and may feel “spongy” to the touch. Most likely your foot will hurt when you try to use or move it.

The best way to determine which condition you have and to receive proper treatment for it is to have your heels examined. Our staff at Parker Foot & Ankle can do that for you. Then you’ll need to begin a period of resting, icing, medication, and physical therapy to heal the inflamed and irritated tissues.

Whether your back of the heel pain is ultimately caused by tendonitis or bursitis, you can do something about it. Have the condition identified so you can get the treatment you need. If you’re struggling with painful heels, let our team at Parker Foot & Ankle in Houston, TX, know. Call (281) 497-2850 to make an appointment.

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