Achilles tendinitis is very common among running athletes. The calf muscles attach to the calcaneus via the Achilles tendon. During running, the calf muscles help with the lift-off phase of gait. Repetitive forces from running combined with insufficient recovery time can initially cause inflammation in the tendon paratenon (fatty areolar tissue that surrounds the tendon). A complete tear of the Achilles tendon is a serious injury, usually resulting from sudden, forceful stress. Tendon tears can occur with minimal exertion in people who have taken fluoroquinolone antibiotics.
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.
There are several types of Achilles tendinitis symptoms, but all of them are closely related. People who suffer from Achilles tendon pain typically have swelling in the Achilles tendon, and that pain can be chronic as the microscopic tears in the area become more prevalent over time. The most intense pain is typically located just a few centimeters above the area where the tendon meets the heel. This area is called the watershed zone, and the amount of blood moving through it is what gives it the highest potential for injury, especially for athletes. Most of the Achilles tendinitis symptoms in people with the condition will happen immediately after they have been inactive for a fairly significant amount of time. That means that the most pain will generally be felt after sitting or lying down for an extended period, or right after waking up in the morning and getting moving. If you aren?t positive that you are suffering specifically from Achilles tendinitis symptoms, consult a doctor to make sure.
The doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor will look for tenderness along the tendon and pain in the area of the tendon when you stand on your toes. X-rays can help diagnose bone problems. An MRI scan may be done if your doctor is thinking about surgery or is worried about the tear in the Achilles tendon.
In most cases, nonsurgical treatment options will provide pain relief, although it may take a few months for symptoms to completely subside. Even with early treatment, the pain may last longer than 3 months. If you have had pain for several months before seeking treatment, it may take 6 months before treatment methods take effect. The first step in reducing pain is to decrease or even stop the activities that make the pain worse. If you regularly do high-impact exercises (such as running), switching to low-impact activities will put less stress on the Achilles tendon. Cross-training activities such as biking, elliptical exercise, and swimming are low-impact options to help you stay active. Placing ice on the most painful area of the Achilles tendon is helpful and can be done as needed throughout the day. This can be done for up to 20 minutes and should be stopped earlier if the skin becomes numb. A foam cup filled with water and then frozen creates a simple, reusable ice pack. After the water has frozen in the cup, tear off the rim of the cup. Then rub the ice on the Achilles tendon. With repeated use, a groove that fits the Achilles tendon will appear, creating a “custom-fit” ice pack. Drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen reduce pain and swelling. They do not, however, reduce the thickening of the degenerated tendon. Using the medication for more than 1 month should be reviewed with your primary care doctor. The following exercise can help to strengthen the calf muscles and reduce stress on the Achilles tendon. Lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and the heel on the ground. Place the other leg in front, with the knee bent. To stretch the calf muscles and the heel cord, push your hips toward the wall in a controlled fashion. Hold the position for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat this exercise 20 times for each foot. A strong pull in the calf should be felt during the stretch. Physical therapy is very helpful in treating Achilles tendinitis. It has proven to work better for noninsertional tendinitis than for insertional tendinitis. Eccentric strengthening is defined as contracting (tightening) a muscle while it is getting longer. Eccentric strengthening exercises can cause damage to the Achilles tendon if they are not done correctly. At first, they should be performed under the supervision of a physical therapist. Once mastered with a therapist, the exercises can then be done at home. These exercises may cause some discomfort, however, it should not be unbearable. Stand at the edge of a stair, or a raised platform that is stable, with just the front half of your foot on the stair. This position will allow your heel to move up and down without hitting the stair. Care must be taken to ensure that you are balanced correctly to prevent falling and injury. Be sure to hold onto a railing to help you balance. Lift your heels off the ground then slowly lower your heels to the lowest point possible. Repeat this step 20 times. This exercise should be done in a slow, controlled fashion. Rapid movement can create the risk of damage to the tendon. As the pain improves, you can increase the difficulty level of the exercise by holding a small weight in each hand. This exercise is performed similarly to the bilateral heel drop, except that all your weight is focused on one leg. This should be done only after the bilateral heel drop has been mastered. Cortisone, a type of steroid, is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication. Cortisone injections into the Achilles tendon are rarely recommended because they can cause the tendon to rupture (tear).
When the tendon tears or ruptures the variety of surgical techniques are available to repair the damage and restore the tendons function. Recent research that is done at Emory University Department of orthopedics have perfected the repair of the Achilles tendon. The procedure is generally involves making an incision in the back of your leg and stitching the torn tendon together using a technique developed and tested by Dr. Labib. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue the repair may be reinforced with other tendons.
Wear shoes that fit correctly and support your feet: Replace your running or exercise shoes before the padding or shock absorption wears out. Shock absorption greatly decreases as the treads on the bottoms or sides of your shoes begin to wear down. You may need running shoes that give your foot more heel or arch support. You may need shoe inserts to keep your foot from rolling inward. Stretch before you exercise: Always warm up your muscles and stretch gently before you exercise. Do cool down exercises when you are finished. This will loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your Achilles tendon. Exercise the right way: If your tendinitis is caused by the way that you exercise, ask a trainer, coach, or your caregiver for help. They can teach you ways to train or exercise to help prevent Achilles tendinitis. Do not run or exercise on uneven or hard surfaces. Instead, run on softer surfaces such as treadmills, rubber tracks, grass, or evenly packed dirt tracks.