The Achilles tendon attaches your calf muscles to your heel. You use this tendon to jump, walk, run, and stand on the balls of your feet. Continuous, intense physical activity, like running and jumping, can cause inflammation of the Achilles. This is known as Achilles tendonitis (also spelled tendinitis). Achilles tendonitis can often be treated at home using simple strategies. However, if home treatment doesn?t work, it is important to see a doctor. If your tendonitis gets worse, it can lead to a tendon tear. You may need medication to ease the pain or a surgical repair.
Tendinitis typically develops after abrupt changes in activity or training level, use of poorly fit or worn footwear, or training on uneven or dense running surfaces. Overuse prior to sufficient training is generally the cause. This is due to forces 8-10 times the body weight acting on the tendon during physical activity. Achilles injuries range from inflammation to a breakdown in the tendon. Pain is generally felt low on the back of the heel due to the low vascularity and susceptibility for inflammation. Pain higher on the Achilles is generally more muscular pain and less tendonitis. If swollen spots or knots are found along the tendon, or if the tendon feels jagged, cease activity and seek professional medical care.
Symptoms of Achilles tendinitis and tendinosis include recurring localized heel pain, sometimes severe, along the achilles tendon during or after exercise. Pain often begins after exercise and gradually worsens. Morning tenderness or stiffness about an inch and a half above the point where the Achilles tendon is attached to the heel bone. Sluggishness in your leg. Mild to severe swelling. Stiffness that generally diminishes as the tendon warms up with use.
If Achilles tendonitis is suspected, avoid any exercise or activity that causes the pain. It is advisable to see a doctor promptly so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment recommended. The doctor will take a full medical history and will ask about the nature and duration of the symptoms. They will perform a physical examination of the affected area. Ultrasound scanning may be used to assess damage to the tendon or surrounding structures. Occasionally MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be recommended. The symptoms of Achilles tendonitis are often similar to symptoms of other conditions such as partial Achilles tendon rupture and heel bursitis. This can make diagnosis difficult and a referral to an orthopaedic specialist may be required in order for an accurate diagnosis to be made.
Wear shoes with a low half-inch to one-inch heel that are somewhat flexible through the ball of the foot. Avoid flat footwear such as slippers or sandals and stiff shoes. Add a heel lift in your shoe. You may also use arch support inserts or orthotic insoles. Heel lifts and orthotics can be purchased at many of our pharmacies and Podiatry departments. Avoid standing or walking barefoot. Perform calf-stretching exercises for 30 to 60 seconds on each leg at least 2 times a day. Stand an arm?s length away from a wall, facing the wall. Lean into the wall, stepping forward with one leg, leaving the other stretched behind you. The leg behind you is the one being stretched. Keep this leg straight (locked) and the toes pointed straight at the wall. Stretch forward until you feel tightness in the calf of your back leg. Hold this position without bouncing for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat for the opposite leg. Do stair exercises every day. Stand facing the stairs with the ball of your foot on a stair and your heel hanging off. Balance on one foot at a time while holding onto the rail. Slowly lower your heel as low as it will drop down and then slowly raise it up as high as you can lift it. Repeat this exercise slowly several times on each foot. Perform this exercise every other day, gradually increasing the number of repetitions over time as tolerated. If you are overweight, talk to your personal physician about resources that can help you lose weight. Carrying excess weight places additional pressure on your feet. Decrease the time that you stand, walk, or engage in exercises that put a load on your feet. Switch to a nonimpact form of exercise until your tendon heals, such as swimming, pool running, and using an elliptical trainer.
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.
The following measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis. Adequately stretch and warm up prior to exercise. Warm down and stretch after exercise. Choose footwear carefully and use footwear appropriate to the sport being undertaken. Use orthotic devices in footwear to correctly support the foot. Exercise within fitness levels and follow a sensible exercise programme. Develop strong, flexible calf muscles.