Achilles Tendinitis is a common overuse injury which results in inflammation of the achilles tendon, most frequently causing mild to severe heel pain. The achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, connecting your calf muscle to your heel bone. It?s used with every step – when you walk, run, and jump. Although the Achilles tendon can withstand great stresses, it?s also prone to tendinitis. The condition is very common in athletes, especially runners who?ve suddenly increased the intensity or duration of their workouts. It?s also common in middle-aged, ?weekend athletes? who play sports like tennis or basketball only occasionally. The pain from achilles tendinitis may be felt anywhere from the back of the leg to the top of the heel. Most cases are mild and can be treated at home under a podiatrist?s supervision. Severe cases of Achilles tendinitis can lead to tendon tears (ruptures) that may require surgical repair.
Short of a trauma, the primary cause of Achilles tendonitis is when the calf muscle is so tight that the heel is unable to come down to the ground placing extreme stress on the Achilles tendon at the insertion. Keep in mind that the calf muscle is designed to contract up, lifting the heel bone off the ground, propelling you forwards to the front of the foot for push off. When the calf is so tight that the heel is prevented from coming down on the ground there will be stress on the tendon and the foot will over pronate causing the Achilles tendon to twist, adding to the stress on the insertion. Improper treatment may lead to a more severe injury, such as a rupture or chronic weakening, which may require surgery.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include weakness in the leg, slight pain above the heel in the lower leg after activity, feeling of stiffness in the leg that usually appears in the morning and lessens throughout the day, bad pain the day after exercising, pain as you climb stairs or go uphill, swelling in the area of the Achilles tendon, creaking or cracking noise when you press on the Achilles tendon.
There is enlargement and warmth of the tendon 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Pain and sometimes a scratching feeling may be created by gently squeezing the tendon between the thumb and forefinger during ankle motion. There may be weakness in push-off strength with walking. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can define the extent of degeneration, the degree to which the tendon sheath is involved and the presence of other problems in this area, but the diagnosis is mostly clinical.
Treatment can range from cold compress and heel pads for minor cases, to physical rehabilitation, anti-inflammatory medicine, ultrasound therapy, and manual therapy. If you are a Michigan resident that suspects they have Achilles Tendinitis, please contact Dr. Young immediately; Achilles Tendinitis, if left untreated, can eventually result in an Achilles Tendon Rupture, which is a serious condition that is a partial or complete tear in the tendon. It can severely hinder walking and can be extremely painful and slow to recover.
In cases of severe, long-term Achilles tendonitis the sheath may become thick and fibrous. In these cases surgery may be recommended. Surgery aims to remove the fibrous tissue and repair any tears in the tendon. A cast or splint will be required after the operation and a recovery program including physiotherapy, specific exercises and a gradual return to activity will be planned.
While it may not be possible to prevent Achilles tendinitis, you can take measures to reduce your risk. Increase your activity level gradually. If you’re just beginning an exercise regimen, start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the training. Take it easy. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your tendons, such as hill running. If you participate in a strenuous activity, warm up first by exercising at a slower pace. If you notice pain during a particular exercise, stop and rest. Choose your shoes carefully. The shoes you wear while exercising should provide adequate cushioning for your heel and should have a firm arch support to help reduce the tension in the Achilles tendon. Replace your worn-out shoes. If your shoes are in good condition but don’t support your feet, try arch supports in both shoes. Stretch daily. Take the time to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon in the morning, before exercise and after exercise to maintain flexibility. This is especially important to avoid a recurrence of Achilles tendinitis. Strengthen your calf muscles. Strong calf muscles enable the calf and Achilles tendon to better handle the stresses they encounter with activity and exercise. Cross-train. Alternate high-impact activities, such as running and jumping, with low-impact activities, such as cycling and swimming.