Do you experience dull pain near the back of your heel or in the back of your leg after your regular run or after playing your favourite sport? When you ramp up your exercise is the pain more severe or prolonged? If so, you may have Achilles tendinitis. The Achilles tendon is the thick, strong, springy band of tissue that connects the muscles from the middle of your calf to your heel bone. You use your Achilles tendon when you walk, run or jump. Achilles tendinitis occurs when the Achilles tendon is repeatedly strained. The Achilles tendon becomes less flexible, weaker and more prone to injury as we age. Middle-aged weekend warriors and runners who suddenly intensify their training often suffer from Achilles tendinitis.
There are two large muscles in the calf. These muscles are important for walking. They create the power needed to push off with the foot or go up on the toes. The large Achilles tendon connects these muscles to the heel. Heel pain is most often due to overuse of the foot. Rarely it is caused by an injury. Tendinitis due to overuse is most common in younger people. It can occur in walkers, runners, or other athletes. Achilles tendinitis may be more likely to occur if you Suddenly increase the amount or intensity of an activity. Your calf muscles are very tight (not stretched out). You run on hard surfaces such as concrete. You run too often, you jump a lot (such as when playing basketball), you do not have shoes with proper support, your foot suddenly turns in or out. Tendinitis from arthritis is more common in middle-aged and elderly people. A bone spur or growth may form in the back of the heel bone. This may irritate the Achilles tendon and cause pain and swelling.
Symptoms can vary from an achy pain and stiffness to the insertion of the Achilles tendon to the heel bone (calcaneus), to a burning that surrounds the whole joint around the inflamed thick tendon. With this condition, the pain is usually worse during and after activity, and the tendon and joint area can become stiffer the following day. This is especially true if your sheets are pushing down on your toes and thereby driving your foot into what is termed plantar flexion (downward flexed foot), as this will shorten the tendon all night.
During an examination of the foot and ankle, you doctor will look for the following signs, Achilles tendon swelling or thickening. Bone spurs appearing at the lower part of the tendon at the back of the hell. Pain at the middle or lower area of the Achilles tendon. Limited range of motion of the foot and ankle, and a decreased ability to flex the foot. Your doctor may perform imaging tests, such as X-rays and MRI scans, to make a diagnosis of Achilles tendinitis. X-rays show images of the bones and can help the physician to determine if the Achilles tendon has become hardened, which indicated insertional Achilles tendinitis. MRI scans may not be necessary, but they are important guides if you are recommended to have surgical treatment. An MRI can show the severity of the damage and determine what kind of procedure would be best to address the condition.
The aim, when treating Achilles tendinitis, is to relieve pain and reduce swelling. The kind of treatment used can vary, based on the severity of the condition and whether or not the patient is a professional athlete. After diagnosis, the doctor will decide which method of treatment is required for the patient to undergo, it is likely that they will suggest a combination. Stretching achilles tendon, a doctor might show the patient some stretching exercises that help the Achilles tendon heal, as well as preventing future injury. Methods used to treat Achilles tendinitis include, ice packs – applying these to the tendon, when in pain or after exercising, can alleviate the pain and inflammation. Resting, this gives the tissue time to heal. The type of rest needed depends on the severity of the symptoms. In mild cases of Achilles tendinitis, it may mean just reducing the intensity of a workout, in severe cases it might mean complete rest for days or weeks. Elevating the foot, swelling can be reduced if the foot is kept raised above the level of the heart. Exercise and stretching, a doctor might show the patient some stretching exercises that help the Achilles tendon heal, as well as preventing future injury. They may, instead, refer the patient to a physiotherapist or another specialist. The exercises learned will improve the flexibility of the area and likely increase calf strength. Pain relievers – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen can reduce pain and swelling. If you suffer from asthma, kidney disease or liver disease do not take NSAIDs without first checking with your doctor. Steroid injections, these can reduce tendon swelling, but should be performed with caution, as this process has been associated with a greater risk of tendon rupture. A doctor would likely perform the injection while scanning the area with ultrasound to reduce this risk. Compression bandages and orthotic devices, such as ankle supports and shoe inserts can aid recovery as they take the stress off the Achilles tendon.
Surgery is considered when non-operative measures fail. Patient compliance and postoperative management is an important aspect of the operative management to prevent ankle stiffness or recurrence of the symptoms. Surgery usually requires a removal of the damaged tissue (debridement) and meticulous repair of the tendon. Post-operative immobilization is required, followed by gradual range of motion and strengthening exercises start. It may require 6 months for the full recovery. Some known complication are recurrence, stiffness of the ankle and deep vein thrombosis.
Warm up slowly by running at least one minute per mile slower than your usual pace for the first mile. Running backwards during your first mile is also a very effective way to warm up the Achilles, because doing so produces a gentle eccentric load that acts to strengthen the tendon. Runners should also avoid making sudden changes in mileage, and they should be particularly careful when wearing racing flats, as these shoes produce very rapid rates of pronation that increase the risk of Achilles tendon injury. If you have a tendency to be stiff, spend extra time stretching. If you?re overly flexible, perform eccentric load exercises preventively. Lastly, it is always important to control biomechanical alignment issues, either with proper running shoes and if necessary, stock or custom orthotics.