Inflammation of the Achilles tendon.The Achilles is the large tendon connecting the two major calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus, to the back of the heel bone. Under too much stress, the tendon tightens and is forced to work too hard. This causes it to become inflamed (that is tendinitis), and, over time, can produce a covering of scar tissue, which is less flexible than the tendon. If the inflamed Achilles continues to be stressed, it can tear or rupture.
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.
Symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis include the following. Pain and stiffness along the Achilles tendon in the morning. Pain along the tendon or back of the heel that worsens with activity. Severe pain the day after exercising. Thickening of the tendon. Bone spur (insertional tendinitis). Swelling that is present all the time and gets worse throughout the day with activity. If you have an Achilles tendon rupture, you might feel a pop or snap, accompanied by a sharp pain behind your ankle. You are likely to have difficulty walking properly. If you have ruptured your Achilles tendon then surgery is likely to be the best treatment option.
A podiatrist can usually make the diagnosis by clinical history and physical examination alone. Pain with touching or stretching the tendon is typical. There may also be a visible swelling to the tendon. The patient frequently has difficulty plantarflexing (pushing down the ball of the foot and toes, like one would press on a gas pedal), particularly against resistance. In most cases X-rays don’t show much, as they tend to show bone more than soft tissues. But X-rays may show associated degeneration of the heel bone that is common with Achilles Tendon problems. For example, heel spurs, calcification within the tendon, avulsion fractures, periostitis (a bruising of the outer covering of the bone) may all be seen on X-ray. In cases where we are uncertain as to the extent of the damage to the tendon, though, an MRI scan may be necessary, which images the soft tissues better than X-rays. When the tendon is simply inflamed and not severely damaged, the problem may or may not be visible on MRI. It depends upon the severity of the condition.
Your podiatrist may recommend one or more of these treatments to manage your pain. A bandage specifically designed to restrict motion of the tendon. Over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen). Custom orthotic shoe inserts to relieve stress on the tendon. Rest. Switching to a low impact exercise such as swimming, that does not stress the tendon. Stretching, massage, ultrasound and appropriate exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the achilles tendon. In extreme cases, surgery is necessary to remove the damaged tissue and repair any tears.
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.
Stay in good shape year-round and try to keep your muscles as strong as they can be. Strong, flexible muscles work more efficiently and put less stress on your tendon. Increase the intensity and length of your exercise sessions gradually. This is especially important if you’ve been inactive for a while or you’re new to a sport. Always warm up before you go for a run or play a sport. If your muscles are tight, your Achilles tendons have to work harder to compensate. Stretch it out. Stretch your legs, especially your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and thigh muscles – these muscles help stabilize your knee while running. Get shoes that fit properly and are designed for your sport. If you’re a jogger, go to a running specialty store and have a trained professional help you select shoes that match your foot type and offer plenty of support. Replace your shoes before they become worn out. Try to run on softer surfaces like grass, dirt trails, or synthetic tracks. Hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt can put extra pressure on the joints. Also avoid running up or down hills as much as possible. Vary your exercise routine. Work different muscle groups to keep yourself in good overall shape and keep individual muscles from getting overused. If you notice any symptoms of Achilles tendonitis, stop running or doing activities that put stress on your feet. Wait until all the pain is gone or you have been cleared to start participating again by a doctor.