Achilles tendonitis is a condition wherein the Achilles tendon, at or near its insertion to back of the heel, becomes inflamed and causes pain. The Achilles tendon is one of the longest and strongest tendons in the body. It is avascular (not supplied with blood vessels) so it can be slow to heal. The Achilles tendon is formed in the lower third of the leg. Two muscles join to form the Achilles tendon, the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus which are commonly referred to as the calf muscle. The Achilles tendon works as an anti-pronator which means it helps to prevent the foot from rolling inward.
Poorly conditioned athletes are at the highest risk for developing Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis. Participating in activities that involve sudden stops and starts and repetitive jumping (e.g., basketball, tennis, dancing) increases the risk for the condition. It often develops following sudden changes in activity level, training on poor surfaces, or wearing inappropriate footwear. Achilles tendonitis may be caused by a single incident of overstressing the tendon, or it may result from a series of stresses that produce small tears over time (overuse). Patients who develop arthritis in the heel have an increased risk for developing Achilles tendonitis. This occurs more often in people who middle aged and older. The condition also may develop in people who exercise infrequently and in those who are just beginning an exercise program, because inactive muscles and tendons have little flexibility because of inactivity. It is important for people who are just starting to exercise to stretch properly, start slowly, and increase gradually. In some cases, a congenital (i.e., present at birth) condition causes Achilles tendonitis. Typically, this is due to abnormal rotation of the foot and leg (pronation), which causes the arch of the foot to flatten and the leg to twist more than normal.
Patients with this condition typically experience pain in the region of the heel and back of the ankle. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the Achilles region that increases with rest (typically at night or first thing in the morning) following activities which place stress on the Achilles tendon. These activities typically include walking or running excessively (especially uphill or on uneven surfaces), jumping, hopping, performing heel raises or performing calf stretches. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Patients with Achilles tendonitis may also experience swelling, tenderness on firmly touching the Achilles tendon, weakness and sometimes palpable thickening of the affected Achilles tendon when compared with the unaffected side.
During the physical exam, your doctor will gently press on the affected area to determine the location of pain, tenderness or swelling. He or she will also evaluate the flexibility, alignment, range of motion and reflexes of your foot and ankle. Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests to assess your condition, X-rays. While X-rays can’t visualize soft tissues such as tendons, they may help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Ultrasound. This device uses sound waves to visualize soft tissues like tendons. Ultrasound can also produce real-time images of the Achilles tendon in motion. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and a very strong magnet, MRI machines can produce very detailed images of the Achilles tendon.
Treatment options might include anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen which might help with acute achilles inflammation and pain but has not been proven to be beneficial long term and may even inhibit healing. If the injury is severe then a plaster cast might be applied to immobilize the tendon. Use of electrotherapy such as ultrasound treatment, laser therapy and extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) may be beneficial in reducing pain and encouraging healing. Applying sports massage techniques can mobilze the tissues or the tendon itself and help stretch the calf muscles. Some might give a steroid injection however an injection directly into the tendon is not recommended. Some specialists believe this can increase the risk of a total rupture of the tendon in future. One of the most effective forms of treatment for achilles tendonitis is a full rehabilitation program consisting of eccentric strengthening exercises. There is now considerable evidence suggesting the effectiveness of slow eccentric rehabilitation exercises for curing achilles tendon pain.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if, after around six months, other treatments haven?t worked and your symptoms are having an impact on your day-to-day life. Surgery involves removing damaged areas of your tendon and repairing them.
Wear shoes that fit correctly and support your feet: Replace your running or exercise shoes before the padding or shock absorption wears out. Shock absorption greatly decreases as the treads on the bottoms or sides of your shoes begin to wear down. You may need running shoes that give your foot more heel or arch support. You may need shoe inserts to keep your foot from rolling inward. Stretch before you exercise: Always warm up your muscles and stretch gently before you exercise. Do cool down exercises when you are finished. This will loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your Achilles tendon. Exercise the right way: If your tendinitis is caused by the way that you exercise, ask a trainer, coach, or your caregiver for help. They can teach you ways to train or exercise to help prevent Achilles tendinitis. Do not run or exercise on uneven or hard surfaces. Instead, run on softer surfaces such as treadmills, rubber tracks, grass, or evenly packed dirt tracks.