Concerning Achilles Tendonitis

Overview

Achilles TendonAchilles tendonitis is inflammation and tendonosis is degeneration and irregular healing of the achilles tendon. The achilles tendon is the large tendon located in the back of the leg that inserts into the heel. The pain caused by achilles tendonitis/osis can develop gradually without a history of trauma. The pain can be a shooting pain, burning pain, or even an extremely piercing pain. Achilles tendonitis/osis should not be left untreated due to the danger that the tendon can become weak and rupture requiring surgery.


Causes

Achilles tendonitis is a common sports injury caused by repeated or intense strain on the tendon. But non-athletes also can get it if they put a lot of stress on their feet. Other things that contribute to Achilles tendonitis include. An increase in activity. Starting a training program after a period of inactivity or adding miles or hills to a jogging regimen are two examples of things that put people at risk for Achilles tendonitis. Sports that require sudden starts and stops; for example, tennis and basketball. A change in footwear, or wearing old or badly fitting shoes. New shoes, worn-out shoes, or the wrong size shoes can cause a person’s feet to overcompensate and put stress on the Achilles tendon. Additionally, wearing high heels all the time can cause the tendon and calf muscles to get shorter, and the switch to flat shoes and exercise can put extra strain on the heel. Running up hills. Going uphill forces the Achilles tendon to stretch beyond its normal range. Weak calf muscles, flat arches, “overpronation” (feet that roll in when running), or “oversupination” (feet that roll out when running). Overpronation and oversupination make the lower leg rotate and put a twisting stress on the tendon. Exercising without warming up. Tight calf muscles or muscles that lack flexibility decrease a person’s range of motion and put an extra strain on the tendon. Running or exercising on a hard or uneven surface or doing lunges or plyometrics without adequate training. A traumatic injury to the Achilles tendon.


Symptoms

Symptoms of Achilles tendinitis and tendinosis include recurring localized heel pain, sometimes severe, along the achilles tendon during or after exercise. Pain often begins after exercise and gradually worsens. Morning tenderness or stiffness about an inch and a half above the point where the Achilles tendon is attached to the heel bone. Sluggishness in your leg. Mild to severe swelling. Stiffness that generally diminishes as the tendon warms up with use.


Diagnosis

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.


Nonsurgical Treatment

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).

Achilles Tendon


Surgical Treatment

Achilles tendon repair surgery is often used to repair a ruptured or torn Achilles tendon, the strong fibrous cord that connects the two large muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. These muscles (the gastrocnemius and the soleus) create the power needed to push off with your foot or rise up on your toes. Achilles tendon ruptures are quite common. Most happen during recreational activities that require sudden bursts of muscle power in the legs. Often a torn Achilles tendon can be diagnosed with a physical examination. If swelling is present, the orthopaedist may delay the Achilles tendon surgery until it subsides.


Prevention

Maintaining strength and flexibility in the muscles of the calf will help reduce the risk of tendinitis. Overusing a weak or tight Achilles tendon makes you more likely to develop tendinitis.

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