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Bursitis: causes and relief

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Swollen bursa means painful running.

Runners need to be stubborn: It's determination that gets us out the door, on the road, up the hills, and past the finish lines. However, as I approach two decades of running and four decades of living, I'm learning I don't need to be stubborn -- about injuries, that is. My body is my most valuable piece of gear and I need to take care of it to get more decades of running and stubborn living. So if something hurts, I admit it (grudgingly) and seek medical care (from my patient physician, not Dr. Google).

Most recently, my right heel hurt -- a lot. The pain quickly went from mild when I walked, to intolerable when I ran, and sharp enough to wake me from sleep. Ouch. I'd experienced an identical episode about ten years ago, was diagnosed with bursitis, received prescriptions for antibiotics and super strength anti-inflammatory medication, and instructions to stop running for two weeks. I ignored the instructions as religiously as I followed the course of medications, which worsened the condition and resulted in even longer downtime.

As I guessed and my doctor confirmed, my old friend bursitis had returned but this time, I'm older and wiser. I familiarized myself with causes and relief: the better to work with, and not against, my doctor, and get back on the road.

A real pain in the heel
Retrocalcaneal bursitis is an inflamation of the fluid-filled sac, or bursa, in the back of the ankle by the heel. The bursa provides cushioning and lubrication between tendons and muscles sliding over bone. The most common cause of inflammation is overuse of the ankle during activities such as running.

Pain is often a sharp ache in the heel during running, walking, or when the area is touched. In very bad cases of bursitis, the pain may be constant and sharp enough to wake you from sleep.

Relief from heel pain
The following suggestions can alleviate pain and discomfort:
- Avoid activities that cause pain (yes, that means no running)
- Ice the heel several times a day (roll a frozen water bottle or soda can under the foot to ice inflammation)
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (for example, ibuprofen). If necessary, your doctor may recommend prescription strength medication
- Over-the-counter or custom heel wedges may help decrease stress on the heel
- The stretches recommended for plantar fasciitis may help with prevention

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