Achilles tendinitis is a common condition that causes pain on the back of the leg near the heel. The achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body connecting your calf muscles to your heel bone. Your achilles tendon is used when you walk, run or jump. It is made to withstand a high amount of stress from these activities, but when it is overused, you can develop tendinitis. Tendinitis is defined as inflammation of a tendon. When you are injured, your body's natural response causes inflammation. You may experience pain, swelling, or tenderness at the injured site. There are two types of achilles tendinitis, insertional and non-insertional achilles tendinitis.
Excessive exercise is a common cause of Achilles tendonitis. This is particularly true for athletes. However, factors unrelated to exercise may also contribute to risk. Rheumatoid arthritis and infection are both correlated with tendonitis. In general, any repeated activity that strains the Achilles tendon can contribute to this problem. Here are a few possible causes, jumping into an exercise routine without a proper warm-up, straining calf muscles during repeated exercise or physical activity, playing sports such as tennis that require quick stops and changes of direction, wearing old or ill-fitting shoes, wearing high heels every day.
The main complaint associated with Achilles tendonitis is pain behind the heel. The pain is often most prominent in an area about 2-4 centimeters above where the tendon attaches to the heel. In this location, called the watershed zone of the tendon, the blood supply to the tendon makes this area particularly susceptible. Patients with Achilles tendonitis usually experience the most significant pain after periods of inactivity. Therefore patients tend to experience pain after first walking in the morning and when getting up after sitting for long periods of time. Patients will also experience pain while participating in activities, such as when running or jumping. Achilles tendonitis pain associated with exercise is most significant when pushing off or jumping.
X-rays are usually normal in patients with Achilles tendonitis, but are performed to evaluate for other possible conditions. Occasionally, an MRI is needed to evaluate a patient for tears within the tendon. If there is a thought of surgical treatment an MRI may be helpful for preoperative evaluation and planning.
Massage therapy improves blood flow to the muscles and tissues of the affected area while increasing range of motion and can prevent recurring injury. The healing process can be quickened using ultrasound heat therapy to improve blood flow to the affected area. Wearing a night brace keeps the leg flexed, preventing stiffening of the tendon, which would impair healing. Stretching exercises increase flexibility and allow the tendon to heal without shortening, a deformity resulting in chronic pain. Persistent Achilles pain may warrant the use of a cast or walking boot to be worn for 4-6 weeks stabilizing the tendon so it can heal. After removal of the cast or boot, physical therapy will be ordered to increase functionality of the affected limb. To reduce chronic inflammation of the tendon, corticosteroid injections may be prescribed. It?s important to note that this corticosteroid treatment increases the risk of tendon rupture. Ultrasound imaging may be used by the physician administering the steroid injection, in order to help visualize the affected area. When all other therapies have failed to or tendon rupture occurs, surgical intervention and repair of the muscles and tendons is the last treatment option.
There are three common procedures that doctor preform in order help heal the tendinitis depending on the location of the tendinitis and amount of damage to the tendon, including: Gastrocnemius recession - With this surgery doctors lengthen the calf muscles because the tight muscles increases stress on the Achilles tendon. The procedure is typically done on people who have difficulty flexing their feet even with constant stretching. Debridement and Repair - When there is less than 50% damage in the tendon, it is possible for doctors to remove the injured parts and repair the healthy portions. This surgery is most done for patients who are suffering from bone spurs or arthritis. To repair the tendon doctors may use metal or plastic anchors to help hold the Achilles tendon in place. Patients have to wear a boot or cast for 2 weeks or more, depending and the damage done to the tendon. Debridement with Tendon Transfer - When there is more the 50% damage done to the Achilles tendon, and Achilles tendon transfer is preformed because the remain healthy tissue is not strong enough. The tendon that helps the big toe move is attached to give added strength to the damaged Achilles. After surgery, most patients don?t notice any difference when they walk or run.
Although Achilles tendinitis cannot be completely prevented, the risk of developing it can be lowered. Being aware of the possible causes does help, but the risk can be greatly reduced by taking the following precautions. Getting a variety of exercise - alternating between high-impact exercises (e.g. running) and low-impact exercise (e.g. swimming) can help, as it means there are days when the Achilles tendon is under less tension. Limit certain exercises - doing too much hill running, for example, can put excessive strain on the Achilles tendon. Wearing the correct shoes and replacing them when worn - making sure they support the arch and protect the heel will create less tension in the tendon. Using arch supports inside the shoe, if the shoe is in good condition but doesn't provide the required arch support this is a cheaper (and possibly more effective) alternative to replacing the shoe completely. Stretching, doing this before and after exercising helps to keep the Achilles tendon flexible, which means less chance of tendinitis developing. There is no harm in stretching every day (even on days of rest), as this will only further improve flexibility. Gradually increasing the intensity of a workout - Achilles tendinitis can occur when the tendon is suddenly put under too much strain, warming up and increasing the level of activity gradually gives your muscles time to loosen up and puts less pressure on the tendon.