Achilles Tendinitis Facts

Overview

Achilles TendonitisThe Achilles tendon is the tendon that attaches the gastrocnemius (calf muscles) to the calcaneus bone (back of the heel). It is important in activities that involve plantar flexion of the ankle (pushing down with the foot or doing heel raises). The Achilles tendon can get inflamed (tendinitis) or it can degenerate/wear out (tendinopathy) with repetitive activities. Aggravating activities include running and/or repetitive jumping.




Causes

Most common in middle-aged men. Conditions affecting the foot structure (such as fallen arches). Running on uneven, hilly ground, or in poor quality shoes. Diabetes. High blood pressure. Certain antibiotics. ?Weekend Warriors?. Recent increase in the intensity of an exercise program. While Achilles tendinitis can flare up with any overuse or strain of the Achilles tendon, it most often affects middle-aged men, especially if they are ?weekend warriors? who are relatively sedentary during the week, then decide to play basketball or football on Saturday. Those with flat feet or other structural conditions affecting their feet tend to put excess strain on the Achilles tendon, increasing their chances of developing Achilles tendinitis or even rupturing the tendon. If you are a runner, be sure to only run in quality running shoes that are supportive and well cushioned, and to be mindful of the surface you?re running on. Uneven surfaces and especially hilly terrain put additional strain on your Achilles tendon and can lead to the condition.




Symptoms

Most cases of Achilles tendonitis start out slowly, with very little pain, and then grow worse over time. Some of the more common symptoms include mild pain or an ache above the heel and in the lower leg, especially after running or doing other physical activities, pain that gets worse when walking uphill, climbing stairs, or taking part in intense or prolonged exercise, stiffness and tenderness in the heel, especially in the morning, that gradually goes away, swelling or hard knots of tissue in the Achilles tendon, a creaking or crackling sound when moving the ankle or pressing on the Achilles tendon, weakness in the affected leg.




Diagnosis

If you think you might have Achilles tendonitis, check in with your doctor before it gets any worse. Your doc will ask about the activities you've been doing and will examine your leg, foot, ankle, and knee for range of motion. If your pain is more severe, the doctor may also make sure you haven't ruptured (torn) your Achilles tendon. To check this, the doc might have you lie face down and bend your knee while he or she presses on your calf muscles to see if your foot flexes. Any flexing of the foot means the tendon is at least partly intact. It's possible that the doctor might also order an X-ray or MRI scan of your foot and leg to check for fractures, partial tears of the tendon, or signs of a condition that might get worse. Foot and ankle pain also might be a sign of other overuse injuries that can cause foot and heel pain, like plantar fasciitis and Sever's disease. If you also have any problems like these, they also need to be treated.




Nonsurgical Treatment

In order to treat achilles tendinitis effectively, it is important to complete a thorough examination of the entire lower extremity. Once the true cause is identified, a comprehensive treatment program can be initiated to reduce inflammation and improve any faulty lower extremity biomechanics. Treatment options may include biomechanical analysis of gait. Splinting/bracing to alleviate the strain on the tendon. Soft tissue mobilization/manual therapy to decrease inflammation and promote healing of the tendon. Strengthening/flexibility and proprioceptive exercises. Home exercise program. Modalities for pain and inflammation (i.e. ultrasound, iontophoresis, electrical stimulation, ice). Methods to alter faulty mechanics (i.e taping, orthotics). Education about lifestyle changes (i.e. proper shoes, activity modification).

Achilles Tendonitis




Surgical Treatment

Chronic Achilles tendon tears can be more complicated to repair. A tendon that has torn and retracted (pulled back) into the leg will scar in the shortened position over time. Restoring normal tendon length is usually not an issue when surgery is performed within a few weeks of the injury. However, when there has been a delay of months or longer, the treatment can be more complicated. Several procedures can be used to add length to a chronic Achilles tear. A turndown procedure uses tissue folded down from the top of the calf to add length to the Achilles tendon. Tendon transfers from other tendons of the ankle can also be performed to help restore function of the Achilles. The results of surgery in a chronic situation are seldom as good as an acute repair. However, in some patients, these procedures can help restore function of a chronically damaged Achilles.




Prevention

While it may not be possible to prevent Achilles tendinitis, you can take measures to reduce your risk. Increase your activity level gradually. If you're just beginning an exercise regimen, start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the training. Take it easy. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your tendons, such as hill running. If you participate in a strenuous activity, warm up first by exercising at a slower pace. If you notice pain during a particular exercise, stop and rest. Choose your shoes carefully. The shoes you wear while exercising should provide adequate cushioning for your heel and should have a firm arch support to help reduce the tension in the Achilles tendon. Replace your worn-out shoes. If your shoes are in good condition but don't support your feet, try arch supports in both shoes. Stretch daily. Take the time to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon in the morning, before exercise and after exercise to maintain flexibility. This is especially important to avoid a recurrence of Achilles tendinitis. Strengthen your calf muscles. Strong calf muscles enable the calf and Achilles tendon to better handle the stresses they encounter with activity and exercise. Cross-train. Alternate high-impact activities, such as running and jumping, with low-impact activities, such as cycling and swimming.

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