Achilles tendonitis is a condition wherein the Achilles tendon, at or near its insertion to back of the heel, becomes inflamed and causes pain. The Achilles tendon is one of the longest and strongest tendons in the body. It is avascular (not supplied with blood vessels) so it can be slow to heal. The Achilles tendon is formed in the lower third of the leg. Two muscles join to form the Achilles tendon, the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus which are commonly referred to as the calf muscle. The Achilles tendon works as an anti-pronator which means it helps to prevent the foot from rolling inward.
Short of a trauma, the primary cause of Achilles tendonitis is when the calf muscle is so tight that the heel is unable to come down to the ground placing extreme stress on the Achilles tendon at the insertion. Keep in mind that the calf muscle is designed to contract up, lifting the heel bone off the ground, propelling you forwards to the front of the foot for push off. When the calf is so tight that the heel is prevented from coming down on the ground there will be stress on the tendon and the foot will over pronate causing the Achilles tendon to twist, adding to the stress on the insertion. Improper treatment may lead to a more severe injury, such as a rupture or chronic weakening, which may require surgery.
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.
When diagnosing Achilles tendinitis, a doctor will ask the patient a few questions about their symptoms and then perform a physical examination. To perform a physical exam on the Achilles tendon, the doctor will lightly touch around the back of the ankle and tendon to locate the source of the pain or inflammation. They will also test the foot and ankle to see if their range of motion and flexibility has been impaired. The doctor might also order an imaging test to be done on the tendon. This will aid in the elimination of other possible causes of pain and swelling, and may help the doctor assess the level of damage (if any) that has been done to the tendon. Types of imaging tests that could be used for diagnosing Achilles tendinitis are MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging), X-ray, Ultrasound.
Achilles tendinitis can typically be treated at home by following the R.I.C.E. treatment method. Rest. Rest the tendon by avoiding activities that irritate the tendon or increase swelling. However, this does not mean you should be completely inactive for long periods of time, as this can cause stiffness in your joints. It?s still important to stretch in order to maintain strength and flexibility and partake in activities that don?t put direct pressure on the tendon, such as bicycling. Ice. Apply ice to the affected area for 20-minutes at a time, every couple hours, as needed, to reduce swelling and pain. Compression. Use compression bandages to help reduce swelling. Elevation. Elevate your ankle above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. It is particularly important to do this at night while you sleep. Simply place a pillow or two under your ankle to keep it elevated. Once the tendon has healed, be sure to gradually return to more strenuous activities. If flattened arches contributed to the injury, wear shoes with appropriate support or inserts to prevent the condition from progressing or recurring. If these non-surgical treatments have not been able to provide relief of symptoms after several months, surgery may be performed to remove inflamed tissue. However, this is not usually recommended unless all other options have been exhausted. Consult your doctor for more information about surgical treatment options.
Occasionally, conservative management of Achilles tendon conditions fails. This failure is more common in older male patients and those with longstanding symptoms, those who persist in full training despite symptoms or those who have uncorrected predisposing factors. In these cases, surgery may be indicated. It should be remembered, however, that the rehabilitation program, particularly for severe Achilles tendon injuries, is a slow, lengthy program. Surgery is only indicated when there is failure to progress in the rehabilitation program. Surgery should not be considered unless at least six months of appropriate conservative management has failed to lead to improvement.
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.