Achilles Tendinitis is a painful condition. Running and walking are made possible by the Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Strenuous exercise, jumping, and climbing are all movements that can strain the tendon and calf muscles, causing an inflammation known as tendinitis. The injury to the Achilles can be mild, requiring only rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, or severe, necessitating surgical repair of the damaged tendon. Chronic Achilles tendinitis can lead to micro tears in the tissue (tendinosis), which weaken the tendon and put it at risk for severe damage such as a tear or rupture.
Achilles tendinitis can be caused by overly tight calf muscles, excessive running up hill or down hill, a sudden increase in the amount of exercise, e.g. running for a longer distance, wearing ill-fitting running shoes, such as those with soles that are too stiff, or wearing high heels regularly, or changing between high heels all day and flat shoes or low running shoes in the evening. Overuse is common in walkers, runners, dancers and other athletes who do a lot of jumping and sudden starts/stops, which exert a lot of stress on the Achilles tendon. Continuing to stress an inflamed Achilles tendon can cause rupture of the tendon - it snaps, often with a distinctive popping sound. A ruptured Achilles tendon makes it virtually impossible to walk. An Achilles tendon rupture is usually treated by surgical repair or wearing a cast.
Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include, pain in the back of the heel, difficulty walking, sometimes the pain makes walking impossible, swelling, tenderness and warmth of the Achilles tendon. Achilles tendonitis is graded according to how severe it is, mild - pain in the Achilles tendon during a particular activity (such as running) or shortly after. Moderate - the Achilles tendon may swell. In some cases, a hard lump (nodule) may form in the tendon. Severe - any type of activity that involves weight bearing causes pain of the Achilles tendon. Very occasionally, the Achilles tendon may rupture (tear). When an Achilles tendon ruptures, it is said to feel like a hard whack on the heel.
A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose an Achilles injury such as Achilles tendonitis. Occasionally, further investigations such as an Ultrasound, X-ray or MRI scan may be required to assist with diagnosis and assess the severity of the condition.
Initial treatment consists of medication and ice to relieve the pain, stretching and strengthening exercises, and modification of the activity that initially caused the problem. These all can be carried out at home, although referral to a physical therapist or athletic trainer for further evaluation and treatment may be helpful. Occasionally a walking boot or cast may be recommended to immobilize the tendon, allowing the inflammation to settle down. For less severe cases or after immobilization, a heel lift may be prescribed to reduce stress to the tendon. This may be followed by an elastic bandage wrap of the ankle and Achilles tendon. Orthotics (arch supports) may be prescribed or recommended by your physician. Surgery to remove the inflamed tendon lining or degenerated tendon tissue is rarely necessary and has shown less than predictable results.
There are two types of Achilles repair surgery for tendonitis (inflammation of the Achilles Tendon), if nonsurgical treatments aren't effective. Gastrocnemius recession - The orthopaedic surgeon lengthens the calf muscles to reduce stress on your Achilles tendon. D?bridement and repair - During this procedure, the surgeon removes the damaged part of the Achilles tendon and repairs the remaining tendon with sutures or stitches. Debridement is done when the tendon has less than 50% damage.
Achilles tendinitis cannot always be prevented but the following tips will help you reduce your risk. If you are new to a sport, gradually ramp up your activity level to your desired intensity and duration. If you experience pain while exercising, stop. Avoid strenuous activity that puts excessive stress on your Achilles tendon. If you have a demanding workout planned, warm up slowly and thoroughly. Always exercise in shoes that are in good condition and appropriate for your activity or sport. Be sure to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon before and after working out. If you suffer from Achilles tendinitis make sure you treat it properly and promptly. If self-care techniques don?t work, don?t delay. Book a consultation with a foot care expert or you may find yourself sidelined from your favourite sports and activities.