Achilles Tendonitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendinitisAchilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis, is a painful and often debilitating inflammation of the Achilles tendon (heel cord). The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. It is located in the back of the lower leg, attaches to the heel bone (calcaneus), and connects the leg muscles to the foot. The Achilles tendon gives us the ability to rise up on our toes, facilitating the act of walking, and Achilles tendonitis can make walking almost impossible. There are three stages of tendon inflammation, Peritenonitis, Tendinosis, Peritenonitis with tendinosis. Peritenonitis is characterized by localized pain during or following activity. As this condition progresses, pain often develops earlier on during activity, with decreased activity, or while at rest. Tendinosis is a degenerative condition that usually does not produce symptoms (i.e., is asymptomatic). It may cause swelling or a hard knot of tissue (nodule) on the back of the leg. Peritenonitis with tendinosis results in pain and swelling with activity. As this condition progresses, partial or complete tendon rupture may occur. The overall incidence of Achilles tendonitis is unknown. The condition occurs in approximately 6-18% of runners, and also is more common in athletes, especially in sports that involve jumping (e.g., basketball), and in people who do a lot of walking. Achilles tendonitis that occurs as a result of arthritis in the heel is more common in people who are middle aged and older.

Causes

Achilles tendonitis most commonly occurs due to repetitive or prolonged activities placing strain on the Achilles tendon. This typically occurs due to excessive walking, running or jumping activities. Occasionally, it may occur suddenly due to a high force going through the Achilles tendon beyond what it can withstand. This may be due to a sudden acceleration or forceful jump. The condition may also occur following a calf or Achilles tear, following a poorly rehabilitated sprained ankle or in patients with poor foot biomechanics or inappropriate footwear. In athletes, this condition is commonly seen in running sports such as marathon, triathlon, football and athletics.

Symptoms

Symptoms include pain in the heel and along the tendon when walking or running. The area may feel painful and stiff in the morning. The tendon may be painful to touch or move. The area may be swollen and warm. You may have trouble standing up on one toe.

Diagnosis

A podiatrist can usually make the diagnosis by clinical history and physical examination alone. Pain with touching or stretching the tendon is typical. There may also be a visible swelling to the tendon. The patient frequently has difficulty plantarflexing (pushing down the ball of the foot and toes, like one would press on a gas pedal), particularly against resistance. In most cases X-rays don't show much, as they tend to show bone more than soft tissues. But X-rays may show associated degeneration of the heel bone that is common with Achilles Tendon problems. For example, heel spurs, calcification within the tendon, avulsion fractures, periostitis (a bruising of the outer covering of the bone) may all be seen on X-ray. In cases where we are uncertain as to the extent of the damage to the tendon, though, an MRI scan may be necessary, which images the soft tissues better than X-rays. When the tendon is simply inflamed and not severely damaged, the problem may or may not be visible on MRI. It depends upon the severity of the condition.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Ask your Pharmacist for advice. 1) Your Pharmacy stocks a range of cold packs which may be applied to the area to decrease inflammation. 2) Ask your Pharmacist about a temporary heel raise or pad which can be inserted into footwear to decrease the force absorbed by the tendon when the feet land heavily on the ground. 3) Gently massaging a heat-producing liniment into the calf can help to relieve tension in the muscle which may relieve the symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis. Ask your Pharmacist to recommend the most appropriate type. 4) Gels, sprays or creams which help to reduce inflammation are available and may be applied to the injured area. Ask your Pharmacist for advice. 5) Your Pharmacist can advise you on analgesic, anti-inflammatory medications such as Aspirin which may be of assistance. Aspirin should be avoided in children under the age of 12 and those aged 12 to 15 who have a fever. 6) Strapping the ankle can help restrict movement and minimise further injury. Your Pharmacist stocks a range of athletic strapping tape and ankle guards which may assist your injury.

Achilles Tendinitis

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is considered the last resort. It is only recommended if all other treatment options have failed after at least six months. In this situation, badly damaged portions of the tendon may be removed. If the tendon has ruptured, surgery is necessary to re-attach the tendon. Rehabilitation, including stretching and strength exercises, is started soon after the surgery. In most cases, normal activities can be resumed after about 10 weeks. Return to competitive sport for some people may be delayed for about three to six months.

Prevention

Appropriately warm up and stretch before practice or competition. Allow time for adequate rest and recovery between practices and competition. Maintain appropriate conditioning, Ankle and leg flexibility, Muscle strength and endurance, Cardiovascular fitness. Use proper technique. To help prevent recurrence, taping, protective strapping, or an adhesive bandage may be recommended for several weeks after healing is complete.
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