All About Achilles Tendonitis

Overview

Achilles TendonAchilles tendinitis, also known as Achilles tendonitis, is inflammation of the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to the back of your heel bone. It allows extension of your foot downward, away from your body, which lets your heel lift off the ground as you move forward when walking. Every time you take a step you rely on your Achilles tendon.




Causes

Tight or fatigued calf muscles, which transfer the burden of running to the Achilles. This can be due to poor stretching, rapidly increasing distance, or over-training excessive hill running or speed work, both of which stress the Achilles more than other types of running. Inflexible running shoes, which, in some cases, may force the Achilles to twist. Runners who overpronate (feet rotate too far inward on impact) are most susceptible to Achilles tendinitis.




Symptoms

The main complaint associated with Achilles tendonitis is pain behind the heel. The pain is often most prominent in an area about 2-4 centimeters above where the tendon attaches to the heel. In this location, called the watershed zone of the tendon, the blood supply to the tendon makes this area particularly susceptible. Patients with Achilles tendonitis usually experience the most significant pain after periods of inactivity. Therefore patients tend to experience pain after first walking in the morning and when getting up after sitting for long periods of time. Patients will also experience pain while participating in activities, such as when running or jumping. Achilles tendonitis pain associated with exercise is most significant when pushing off or jumping.




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

The initial aim of the treatment in acute cases is to reduce strain on the tendon and reduce inflammation until rehabilitation can begin. This may involve, avoiding or severely limiting activities that may aggravate the condition, such as running or uphill climbs. Using shoe inserts (orthoses) to take pressure off the tendon. Wear supportive shoes. Reducing Inflammation by icing. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Heel cups and heel lifts can be used temporarily to take pressure off the tendon, but must not be used long term as it can lead to a shortening of the calf. Calf Compression Sleeves. Placing the foot in a cast or restrictive ankle-boot to minimize movement and give the tendon time to heal. This may be recommended in severe cases and used for about eight weeks.

Achilles Tendinitis




Surgical Treatment

The type of surgery you will have depends on the type of injury you are faced with. The longer you have waited to have surgery will also be a factor that determines what type of surgery is needed. With acute (recent) tearing the separation in your Achilles tendon is likely to be very minimal. If you have an acute tear you may qualify for less invasive surgery (such as a mini-open procedure). Surgeons will always choose a shorter, less invasive procedure if it is possible to do so. Most surgeons know that a less complicated procedure will have less trauma to the tendon and a much quicker rate of recovery after the surgery.




Prevention

Stretching of the gastrocnemius (keep knee straight) and soleus (keep knee bent) muscles. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, relax slowly. Repeat stretches 2 - 3 times per day. Remember to stretch well before running strengthening of foot and calf muscles (eg, heel raises) correct shoes, specifically motion-control shoes and orthotics to correct overpronation. Gradual progression of training programme. Avoid excessive hill training. Incorporate rest into training programme.

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