Achilles Tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles Tendon. This tendon attaches the muscles in the calf of the leg to the back of our heels. The Achilles Tendon is a long and thick tendon, which moves our foot down, so that the toes point to the ground (plantar flexion). This tendon can become inflamed due to the following causes. Over utilizing it, such as too much running, especially up or down hill. Trauma, such as a kick to the tendon. Shoe or boot pressure, especially at its attachment to the heel, or just above it. There are over 250,000 injuries to the Achilles Tendon annually. In fact, more Than 10% of all running injuries are to the Achilles tendon. Tendonitis may be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute Achilles Tendonitis comes on quickly, usually after a specific activity or event. It is characterized by an overstretching or tearing of some of the small fibers of the tendon, and causes pain or tenderness when walking or running. It can occur at the insertion (near the attachment to the heel bone, or further up the leg, about 4 or 5 inches above the heel. Acute tendonitis can also follow a specific injury, such as a kick to the tendon while playing soccer. Chronic Achilles Tendonitis develops gradually over time. Many times, you can feel an obvious thickening of the tendon that may be tender when squeezed, due to long standing scarring of the tendon. Pain is also present when walking or during other forms of activity, and feels better at rest.
Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury. Too much too soon is the common cause of overuse injuries, however other factors can contribute to developing the condition. An increase in activity, either distance, speed or a sudden change to running up hills. As a rule of thumb distance runners should increase their mileage by no more than 10% per week. A change of footwear or training surface for example suddenly running on soft sand can cause the heel to drop lower than normal making the tendon stretch further than it is used to. Weak calf muscles can tighten or go into partial spasm which again increases the strain on the achilles tendon by shortening the muscle. Running up hills – the achilles tendon has to stretch more than normal on every stride. This is fine for a while but will mean the tendon will fatigue sooner than normal. Overpronation or feet which roll in when running can place an increased strain on the achilles tendon. As the foot rolls in (flattens) the lower leg also rotates inwards which places twisting stresses on the tendon. Wearing high heels constantly shortens the tendon and calf muscles. When exercising in flat running shoes, the tendon is stretched beyond its normal range which places an abnormal strain on the tendon.
There will be a gradual onset of achilles tendon pain over a period of weeks, or even months. The pain will come on during exercise and is constant throughout the training session. Pain will be felt in the achilles tendon when walking especially up hill or up stairs. This is because the achilles is having to stretch further than normal. There is likely to be stiffness in the Achilles tendon especially in the morning or after a long period of rest. This is thought to be due to adhesions between the tendon sheath and the tendon itself. Nodules or lumps may be found in the achilles tendon, particularly 2-4cm above the heel and the skin will appear red. Pain and tenderness will be felt when pressing in on the achilles tendon which is likely to appear thickened or swollen. A creaking sensation may be felt when press the fingers into the sides of the tendon and moving the ankle.This is known as crepitus.
To diagnose the condition correctly, your doctor will ask you a few questions about the pain and swelling in your heel. You may be asked to stand on the balls of your feet while your doctor observes your range of motion and flexibility. The doctor may also touch the area directly. This allows him to pinpoint where the pain and swelling is most severe.
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).
Surgery is considered the last resort and is often performed by an orthopedic surgeon. It is only recommended if all other treatment options have failed after at least six months. In this situation, badly damaged portions of the tendon may be removed. If the tendon has ruptured, surgery is necessary to re-attach the tendon. Rehabilitation, including stretching and strength exercises, is started soon after the surgery. In most cases, normal activities can be resumed after about 10 weeks. Return to competitive sport for some people may be delayed for about three to six months.
To lower your risk of Achilles tendonitis, stretch your calf muscles. Stretching at the beginning of each day will improve your agility and make you less prone to injury. You should also try to stretch both before and after workouts. To stretch your Achilles, stand with a straight leg, and lean forward as you keep your heel on the ground. If this is painful, be sure to check with a doctor. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Whenever you begin a new fitness regimen, it is a good idea to set incremental goals. Gradually intensifying your physical activity is less likely to cause injury. Limiting sudden movements that jolt the heels and calves also helps to reduce the risk of Achilles tendonitis. Try combining both high- and low-impact exercises in your workouts to reduce stress on the tendon. For example, playing basketball can be combined with swimming. It doesn?t matter if you?re walking, running, or just hanging out. To decrease pressure on your calves and Achilles tendon, it?s important to always wear the right shoes. That means choosing shoes with proper cushioning and arch support. If you?ve worn a pair of shoes for a long time, consider replacing them or using arch supports. Some women feel pain in the Achilles tendon when switching from high heels to flats. Daily wearing of high heels can both tighten and shorten the Achilles tendon. Wearing flats causes additional bending in the foot. This can be painful for the high-heel wearer who is not accustomed to the resulting flexion. One effective strategy is to reduce the heel size of shoes gradually. This allows the tendon to slowly stretch and increase its range of motion.