All About Achilles Tendinitis

Overview

Achilles TendinitisYou can feel your Achilles tendon beneath the skin on the back of your ankle. It is a fibrous band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone (calcaneus), which allows you to lift your heel off the ground. Most commonly an overuse injury, the term Achilles tendinitis commonly refers to, acute inflammation in the sheath surrounding your tendon, chronic damage to the tendon itself, called tendinosis, a combination of the two. Achilles tendinitis can range from mild inflammation to, in rare cases, a tendon rupture. One type of tendinitis, called insertional Achilles tendinitis, can affect the end of the tendon where it attaches to your heel bone. Achilles tendinitis also can be associated with other foot problems, such as painful flat feet.




Causes

Unusual use or overuse of the lower leg muscles and Achilles tendon is usually the cause of Achilles tendinitis. Repetitive jumping, kicking, and sprinting can lead to Achilles tendinitis in both recreational and competitive athletes. Runners, dancers, and athletes over age 65 are especially at risk. Sudden increases in training or competition can also inflame your Achilles tendon. For example, adding hills, stair-climbing, or sprinting to your running workout puts extra stress on your Achilles tendon. Improper technique during training can also strain the tendon. Intense running or jumping without stretching and strengthening your lower leg muscles can put you at risk regardless of your age or fitness level. Running on tight, exhausted, or fatigued calf muscles can put added stress on your Achilles tendon, as your tendon may not be ready to quickly start a workout after a period of inactivity. Direct blows or other injuries to the ankle, foot, or lower leg may pull your Achilles tendon too far and stretch the tissue. A hard contraction of the calf muscles, such as can happen when you push for the final sprint in a race, can strain the tendon. People whose feet roll inward, a condition called overpronation, are particularly at risk. Sometimes, shoes with too much heel cushioning put extra strain on the Achilles tendon.




Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis generally include pain and stiffness along your achilles tendon, especially in the morning. Pain in the back of your heel that gets worse with activity. Severe pain the day after exercising. Swelling that gets worse with activity. If you feel a pop in the back of your heel or bottom of you calf, you may have ruptured or torn you achilles tendon.




Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made via discussion with your doctor and physical examination. Typically, imaging studies are not needed to make the diagnosis. However, in some cases, an ultrasound is useful in looking for evidence of degenerative changes in the tendon and to rule out tendon rupture. An MRI can be used for similar purposes, as well. Your physician will determine whether or not further studies are necessary.




Nonsurgical Treatment

Proper footwear with a strong and secure counter (the heel circumference) may help to encourage heeling of the tendon. A tendinitis will occasionally resolve on it?s own, with rest, ice, and gentle stretching. If symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, consult your physician. Your physician may suggest physiotherapy and custom orthotics. Physiotherapy can suggest appropriate exercises and modalities to aid in the healing process. Custom orthotics can be very successful in treating the problem, as the original cause may be due to an improper alignment of the foot and heel. Re-aligning the foot to a neutral position may provide an optimal, biomechanically sound environment for healing to occur.

Achilles Tendinitis




Surgical Treatment

If non-surgical treatment fails to cure the condition then surgery can be considered. This is more likely to be the case if the pain has been present for six months or more. The nature of the surgery depends if you have insertional, or non-insertional disease. In non-insertional tendonosis the damaged tendon is thinned and cleaned. The damage is then repaired. If there is extensive damage one of the tendons which moves your big toe (the flexor hallucis longus) may be used to reinforce the damaged Achilles tendon. In insertional tendonosis there is often rubbing of the tendon by a prominent part of the heel bone. This bone is removed. In removing the bone the attachment of the tendon to the bone may be weakened. In these cases the attachment of the tendon to the bone may need to be reinforced with sutures and bone anchors.




Prevention

To prevent Achilles tendonitis or tendonosis from recurring after surgical or non-surgical treatment, the foot and ankle surgeon may recommend strengthening and stretching of the calf muscles through daily exercises. Wearing proper shoes for the foot type and activity is also important in preventing recurrence of the condition.

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