The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Achilles tendonitis is a repetitive strain (overuse) injury involving lower leg muscles and tendons at the point where they attach to the bone, resulting in pain at the back of the ankle. Chronic overuse can lead to small tears within the tendon causing long-term weakening, making the tendon susceptible to rupture, which could result in a need for surgery.
Tight or tired calf muscles, which transfer too much of the force associated with running onto the Achilles tendon. Not stretching the calves properly or a rapid increase in intensity and frequency of sport training can make calf muscles fatigued. Activities which place a lot of stress on the achilles tendon, such as hill running and sprint training, can also cause Achilles Tendinitis. Runners who overpronate (roll too far inward on their feet during impact) are most susceptible to Achilles Tendinitis. Runners with flat feet are susceptible to Achilles Tendinitis because flat feet cause a ‘wringing out’ effect on the achilles tendon during running. High arched feet usually absorb less shock from the impact of running so that shock is transferred to the Achilles tendon. Use of inappropriate footwear when playing sport or running e.g., sandals, can also put an extra load on the Achilles tendon. Shoes are now available that have been designed for individual sports and provide cushioning to absorb the shock of impact and support for the foot during forceful movements. Training on hard surfaces e.g., concrete, also increases the risk of Achilles Tendinitis. Landing heavily or continuously on a hard surface can send a shock through the body which is partly absorbed by the Achilles tendon. A soft surface like grass turf helps to lessen the shock of the impact by absorbing some of the force of the feet landing heavily on the ground after a jump or during a running motion.
Achilles tendinitis symptoms present as mild to severe pain or swelling near the ankle. The pain may lead to weakness and decreased mobility, symptoms that increase gradually while walking or running. Over time, the pain worsens, and stiffness in the tendon may be noted in the morning. Mild activity may provide relief. Physical exam may reveal an audible cracking sound when the Achilles tendon is palpated. The lower leg may exhibit weakness. A ruptured or torn Achilles tendon is severely painful and warrants immediate medical attention. The signs of a ruptured or torn Achilles tendon include. Acute, excruciating pain. Impaired mobility, unable to point the foot downward or walk on the toes. Weight bearing or walking on the affected side is not possible.
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.
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.
Not every Achilles tendon injury or condition requires surgery. It is generally understood by doctors and surgeons, that surgery will introduce more scar tissue into the Achilles tendon. This added scar tissue will be problematic, requiring physical therapy and conservative treatment options post-surgery. If not dealt with properly, your ankle and Achilles tendon could end up in worse condition than before the surgery! This is why surgery is only performed as a last resort.
Suggestions to reduce your risk of Achilles tendonitis include, icorporate stretching into your warm-up and cool-down routines. Maintaining an adequate level of fitness for your sport. Avoid dramatic increases in sports training. If you experience pain in your Achilles tendon, rest the area. Trying to ?work through? the pain will only make your injury worse. Wear good quality supportive shoes appropriate to your sport. If there is foot deformity or flattening, obtain orthoses. Avoid wearing high heels on a regular basis. Maintaining your foot in a ?tiptoe? position shortens your calf muscles and reduces the flexibility of your Achilles tendon. An inflexible Achilles tendon is more susceptible to injury. Maintain a normal healthy weight.