Achilles Tendinitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendonThe Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the back of the heel. Injuries to the Achilles tendon are common, as it is in constant use during walking and running. These injuries, known as Achilles tendinitis, are usually the result of overuse damage and minor tears that have accumulated over years. Your risk of developing Achilles tendinitis increases with age and activity level. Many athletes develop Achilles tendinitis. The tendon may be injured several inches away from where it attaches to the foot or at the point of attachment. An injury at the point of attachment is called Achilles enthesopathy. We recommend a combination of treatments over a period of months that may include wearing supportive shoes or orthotic devices, performing stretching exercises, and icing the affected area. If these treatments are not effective, or if the tendon is completely torn, we may recommend surgery.




Causes

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.




Symptoms

Symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis include the following. Pain and stiffness along the Achilles tendon in the morning. Pain along the tendon or back of the heel that worsens with activity. Severe pain the day after exercising. Thickening of the tendon. Bone spur (insertional tendinitis). Swelling that is present all the time and gets worse throughout the day with activity. If you have an Achilles tendon rupture, you might feel a pop or snap, accompanied by a sharp pain behind your ankle. You are likely to have difficulty walking properly. If you have ruptured your Achilles tendon then surgery is likely to be the best treatment option.




Diagnosis

On examination, an inflamed or partially torn Achilles tendon is tender when squeezed between the fingers. Complete tears are differentiated by sudden, severe pain and inability to walk on the extremity. A palpable defect along the course of the tendon. A positive Thompson test (while the patient lies prone on the examination table, the examiner squeezes the calf muscle; this maneuver by the examiner does not cause the normally expected plantar flexion of the foot).




Nonsurgical Treatment

The initial aim of the treatment in acute cases is to reduce strain on the tendon and reduce inflammation until rehabilitation can begin. This may involve, avoiding or severely limiting activities that may aggravate the condition, such as running or uphill climbs. Using shoe inserts (orthoses) to take pressure off the tendon. Wear supportive shoes. Reducing Inflammation by icing. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Heel cups and heel lifts can be used temporarily to take pressure off the tendon, but must not be used long term as it can lead to a shortening of the calf. Calf Compression Sleeves. Placing the foot in a cast or restrictive ankle-boot to minimize movement and give the tendon time to heal. This may be recommended in severe cases and used for about eight weeks.

Achilles Tendinitis




Surgical Treatment

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.




Prevention

Warm up slowly by running at least one minute per mile slower than your usual pace for the first mile. Running backwards during your first mile is also a very effective way to warm up the Achilles, because doing so produces a gentle eccentric load that acts to strengthen the tendon. Runners should also avoid making sudden changes in mileage, and they should be particularly careful when wearing racing flats, as these shoes produce very rapid rates of pronation that increase the risk of Achilles tendon injury. If you have a tendency to be stiff, spend extra time stretching. If you?re overly flexible, perform eccentric load exercises preventively. Lastly, it is always important to control biomechanical alignment issues, either with proper running shoes and if necessary, stock or custom orthotics.

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