Achilles Tendonitis or achilles tendinopathy which is probably a more accurate term is an overuse injury causing pain, inflammation and or degeneration of the thick achilles tendon at the back of the ankle. The term achilles tendinopathy is probably a better term to describe the range of conditions that can cause achilles tendon pain. Achilles tendonitis can be either acute or chronic. Acute achilles tendonitis is usually more painful and of recent onset. Chronic achilles tendonitis will have come on gradually and over weeks, not necessarily preventing activity.
In some cases, Achilles Tendinitis can be caused by physical activity without a proper warm up or trauma, such as falling, to cause an overstressing of the muscle and tendon. Other causes include repetitive overuse syndrome, such as a job that required frequent heel lifting. Biomechanical causes such as pronation (or fallen arches) will cause the heel (calcaneus) to lean slightly, putting the undue stress on the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles. Most pain can be felt at the back of the heel or the point at which the calf muscle becomes a tendon three quarters of the distance down from the knee. Discomfort can be felt especially when jumping or when lifting the heel off the ground. Swelling and redness can often be seen at the back of the heel and touching the area would cause a tender sensation. In extreme cases, the tendon can become torn or rupture entirely which would cause bruising or an inability to put pressure on the foot.
People with Achilles tendinitis may experience pain during and after exercising. Running and jumping activities become painful and difficult. Symptoms include stiffness and pain in the back of the ankle when pushing off the ball of the foot. For patients with chronic tendinitis (longer than six weeks), x-rays may reveal calcification (hardening of the tissue) in the tendon. Chronic tendinitis can result in a breakdown of the tendon, or tendinosis, which weakens the tendon and may cause a rupture.
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.
The aim of the treatment is to reduce strain on the tendon and reduce inflammation. Strain may be reduced by, avoiding or severely limiting activities that may aggravate the condition, such as running, using shoe inserts (orthoses) to take pressure off the tendon as it heals. In cases of flat or hyperpronated feet, your doctor or podiatrist may recommend long-term use of orthoses. I8nflammation may be reduced by, applying icepacks for 20 minutes per hour during the acute stage, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, placing the foot in a cast or restrictive ankle-boot to minimise movement and give the tendon time to heal. This may be recommended in severe cases and used for about eight weeks. Occasionally depot (slowly absorbed) steroid injections may be tried, particularly for peri-tendinitis, but great care needs to be taken to avoid injecting into the tendon. This should only be done by a specialist doctor. You may also be given specific exercises to gently stretch the calf muscles once the acute stage of inflammation has settled down. Your doctor or physiotherapist will recommend these exercises when you are on the road to recovery. Recovery is often slow and will depend on the severity of the condition and how carefully you follow the treatment and care instructions you are given.
Many people don't realize that Achilles tendon surgery can be very traumatic to your body. The type of trauma you experience after surgery can be compared to what you go through when you first injured your Achilles tendon. During the first 24 to 72 hours after the surgery your ankle will be tender, swollen and very painful. Your leg will be weak and unstable making it impossible for you to put weight on your leg without some kind of help. This is why your doctor or surgeon will have you outfitted for a cast, ankle brace and/or crutches before the procedure. When you are relying on a cast/brace and crutches your Achilles tendon is less likely to be as active as it once was. This is usually why atrophy (loss) of your lower leg muscles (specifically your calf muscle) happens. In general, more than 80%* of people who undergo surgery for an injured Achilles Tendon are able to return to their active lifestyle. In order to avoid re-injury, it is important to commit to a regular conservative therapy routine.
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.