Achilles tendinitis is an irritation/inflammation in the achilles tendon, which attaches to the back of the heel. It is often a result of overuse and occurs frequently in runners who have altered their training suddenly, either with regard to duration or intensity. This injury is also prevalent in middle-aged people who are active.
The causes of Achilles tendonitis all appear to be related to excessive stress being transmitted through the tendon. Weak calf muscles, poor ankle range of motion, and excessive pronation have all been connected with the development of Achilles problems.The upshot is that all of these factors, plus training volume and so on, result in damage to the tendon. Much like a bungee cord is made up of tiny strands of rubber aligned together, tendons are comprised of small fiber-like proteins called collagen. Pain in the Achilles tendon is a result of damage to the collagen. Because of this, treatment options should start with ways to address this.
In most cases, symptoms of Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis, develop gradually. Pain may be mild at first and worsen with continued activity. Repeated or continued stress on the Achilles tendon increases inflammation and may cause it to rupture. Partial or complete rupture results in traumatic damage and severe pain, making walking virtually impossible and requiring a long recovery period. Patients with tendinosis may experience a sensation of fullness in the back of the lower leg or develop a hard knot of tissue (nodule).
Physicians usually pinch your Achilles tendon with their fingers to test for swelling and pain. If the tendon itself is inflamed, your physician may be able to feel warmth and swelling around the tissue, or, in chronic cases, lumps of scar tissue. You will probably be asked to walk around the exam room so your physician can examine your stride. To check for complete rupture of the tendon, your physician may perform the Thompson test. Your physician squeezes your calf; if your Achilles is not torn, the foot will point downward. If your Achilles is torn, the foot will remain in the same position. Should your physician require a closer look, these imaging tests may be performed. X-rays taken from different angles may be used to rule out other problems, such as ankle fractures. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic waves to create pictures of your ankle that let physicians more clearly look at the tendons surrounding your ankle joint.
The first thing to do is to cut back your training. If you are working out twice a day, change to once a day and take one or two days off per week. If you are working out every day cut back to every other day and decrease your mileage. Training modification is essential to treatment of this potentially long lasting problem. You should also cut back on hill work and speed work. Post running ice may also help. Be sure to avoid excessive stretching. The first phase of healing should be accompanied by relative rest, which doesn’t necessarily mean stopping running, but as I am emphasizing, a cut back in training. If this does not help quickly, consider the use of a 1/4 inch heel lift can also help. Do not start worrying if you will become dependent on this, concentrate on getting rid of the pain. Don’t walk barefoot around your house, avoid excessively flat shoes, such as “sneakers”, tennis shoes, cross trainers, etc. In office treatment would initially consist of the use of the physical therapy modalities of electrical stimulation, (HVGS, high voltage galvanic stimulation), and ultrasound. Your sports medicine physician should also carefully check your shoes. A heel lift can also be used and control of excessive pronation by taping can also be incorporated into a program of achilles tendonitis rehabilitation therapy. Orthotics with a small heel lift are often helpful.
Around 1 in 4 people who have persisting pain due to Achilles tendinopathy has surgery to treat the condition. Most people have a good result from surgery and their pain is relieved. Surgery involves either of the following, removing nodules or adhesions (parts of the fibres of the tendon that have stuck together) that have developed within the damaged tendon. Making a lengthways cut in the tendon to help to stimulate and encourage tendon healing. Complications from surgery are not common but, if they do occur, can include problems with wound healing.
While it may not be possible to prevent Achilles tendinitis, you can take measures to reduce your risk. Increase your activity level gradually. If you’re just beginning an exercise regimen, start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the training. Take it easy. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your tendons, such as hill running. If you participate in a strenuous activity, warm up first by exercising at a slower pace. If you notice pain during a particular exercise, stop and rest. Choose your shoes carefully. The shoes you wear while exercising should provide adequate cushioning for your heel and should have a firm arch support to help reduce the tension in the Achilles tendon. Replace your worn-out shoes. If your shoes are in good condition but don’t support your feet, try arch supports in both shoes. Stretch daily. Take the time to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon in the morning, before exercise and after exercise to maintain flexibility. This is especially important to avoid a recurrence of Achilles tendinitis. Strengthen your calf muscles. Strong calf muscles enable the calf and Achilles tendon to better handle the stresses they encounter with activity and exercise. Cross-train. Alternate high-impact activities, such as running and jumping, with low-impact activities, such as cycling and swimming.