The 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.
Achilles tendonitis occurs in sports such as running, jumping, dancing and tennis. Other risk factors include participation in a new sporting activity or increasing the intensity of participation. Poor running technique, excessive pronation of the foot and poorly fitting footwear may contribute. In cyclists, the problem may be a low saddle, which causes extra dorsiflexion of the ankle when pedalling. Quinolone antibiotics (eg, ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin) can cause inflammation of tendons and predispose them to rupture.
In most cases, symptoms of Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis, develop gradually. Pain may be mild at first and worsen with continued activity. Repeated or continued stress on the Achilles tendon increases inflammation and may cause it to rupture. Partial or complete rupture results in traumatic damage and severe pain, making walking virtually impossible and requiring a long recovery period. Patients with tendinosis may experience a sensation of fullness in the back of the lower leg or develop a hard knot of tissue (nodule).
Studies such as x-rays and MRIs are not usually needed to make the diagnosis of tendonitis. While they are not needed for diagnosis of tendonitis, x-rays may be performed to ensure there is no other problem, such as a fracture, that could be causing the symptoms of pain and swelling. X-rays may show evidence of swelling around the tendon. MRIs are also good tests identify swelling, and will show evidence of tendonitis. However, these tests are not usually needed to confirm the diagnosis; MRIs are usually only performed if there is a suspicion of another problem that could be causing the symptoms. Once the diagnosis of tendonitis is confirmed, the next step is to proceed with appropriate treatment. Treatment depends on the specific type of tendonitis. Once the specific diagnosis is confirmed, the appropriate treatment of tendonitis can be initiated.
NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor’s order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Steroid injections. Steroids decrease pain and swelling. After you get this shot, you may feel like your Achilles tendon is healed. Do not return to your regular exercise until your caregiver says it is okay. You could make the tendinitis worse, or even tear the tendon. Surgery. If your tendinitis does not heal with other treatments, you may need surgery. Surgery may be done to repair a tear in the tendon, or to remove parts of the tendon. The most important way to manage Achilles tendinitis is to rest. Rest decreases swelling and keeps your tendinitis from getting worse. You may feel pain when you begin to run or exercise. The pain usually goes away as your muscles warm up, but it may come back. Your caregiver may tell you to stop your usual training or exercise activities. He may give you other exercises to do until your Achilles tendon heals. Ice decreases swelling and pain. Put ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Put this on your Achilles tendon for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day. Do this for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away. After 2 or 3 days, you may use heat to decrease pain and stiffness. Use a hot water bottle, heating pad, whirlpool, or warm compress. To make a compress, soak a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring out the extra water and put it on your Achilles tendon 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day. Stretching and making the muscles stronger may help decrease stress on your Achilles tendon. Physical therapists can teach you exercises and treatments to help your tendinitis heal faster. You may need to wear inserts in your shoes. You may need to wrap tape around your heel and back of the leg. You may need to wear a cast, brace, or support boot.
If non-surgical treatment fails to cure the condition then surgery can be considered. This is more likely to be the case if the pain has been present for six months or more. The nature of the surgery depends if you have insertional, or non-insertional disease. In non-insertional tendonosis the damaged tendon is thinned and cleaned. The damage is then repaired. If there is extensive damage one of the tendons which moves your big toe (the flexor hallucis longus) may be used to reinforce the damaged Achilles tendon. In insertional tendonosis there is often rubbing of the tendon by a prominent part of the heel bone. This bone is removed. In removing the bone the attachment of the tendon to the bone may be weakened. In these cases the attachment of the tendon to the bone may need to be reinforced with sutures and bone anchors.
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.