The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles in the lower leg to the heel bone. It is the largest yet most exposed tendon in the body. Achilles tendonitis is where the Achilles tendon, and sometimes the protective sheath through which it moves, becomes inflamed, causing pain and swelling symptoms. Achilles tendonitis (also known as Achilles tendinopathy or tendonosis) is classified as an overuse injury. If left untreated it can become chronic (long-term), requiring more intensive treatment. Achilles tendonitis can also increase the risk of sustaining an Achilles tendon rupture (tear).
Although a specific incident of overstretching can cause an Achilles tendon disorder, these injuries typically result from a gradually progressive overload of the Achilles tendon or its attachment to bone. The cause of this chronic overload is usually a combination of factors that can put excess stress on the tendon: being overweight, having a tight calf muscle, standing or walking for a long period of time, wearing excessively stiff or flat footwear, or engaging in significant sports activity.
Gradual onset of pain and stiffness over the tendon, which may improve with heat or walking and worsen with strenuous activity. Tenderness of the tendon on palpation. There may also be crepitus and swelling. Pain on active movement of the ankle joint. Ultrasound or MRI may be necessary to differentiate tendonitis from a partial tendon rupture.
The diagnosis is made via discussion with your doctor and physical examination. Typically, imaging studies are not needed to make the diagnosis. However, in some cases, an ultrasound is useful in looking for evidence of degenerative changes in the tendon and to rule out tendon rupture. An MRI can be used for similar purposes, as well. Your physician will determine whether or not further studies are necessary.
Physical therapy is the first and most useful defense for achilles tendonitis because of the two presentations outlined above. Treatments for the two types are quite different in approach. Midsubstance tendinitis responds well to stretching, whereas insertional tendnitis tends to be aggravated more by it. Depend on your trusted physical therapist to differentiate between the two and follow their guidelines on exercises and running modifications. Running gait patterns that show excessive ?sinking postures? tend to point to the source of achilles tendon problems. Altering your gait in the midstance phase of the cycle can reduce the load on the tendon dramatically and thereby reduce pain. Rely on your running physical therapist for proper guidance on altering your gait the right way. Stride Strong?s Portland Running Clinic gait analysis can identify and fix potential issues before pain sets in. Icing at the onset of acute achilles pain (i.e. when the injury is fresh and new) would help control the inflammation. Your next step should be to call our number for an appointment.
In cases of severe, long-term Achilles tendonitis the sheath may become thick and fibrous. In these cases surgery may be recommended. Surgery aims to remove the fibrous tissue and repair any tears in the tendon. A cast or splint will be required after the operation and a recovery program including physiotherapy, specific exercises and a gradual return to activity will be planned.
Appropriately warm up and stretch before practice or competition. Allow time for adequate rest and recovery between practices and competition. Maintain appropriate conditioning, Ankle and leg flexibility, Muscle strength and endurance, Cardiovascular fitness. Use proper technique. To help prevent recurrence, taping, protective strapping, or an adhesive bandage may be recommended for several weeks after healing is complete.