Achilles tendonitis is a condition wherein the Achilles tendon, at or near its insertion to back of the heel, becomes inflamed and causes pain. The Achilles tendon is one of the longest and strongest tendons in the body. It is avascular (not supplied with blood vessels) so it can be slow to heal. The Achilles tendon is formed in the lower third of the leg. Two muscles join to form the Achilles tendon, the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus which are commonly referred to as the calf muscle. The Achilles tendon works as an anti-pronator which means it helps to prevent the foot from rolling inward.
Poorly conditioned athletes are at the highest risk for developing Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis. Participating in activities that involve sudden stops and starts and repetitive jumping (e.g., basketball, tennis, dancing) increases the risk for the condition. It often develops following sudden changes in activity level, training on poor surfaces, or wearing inappropriate footwear. Achilles tendonitis may be caused by a single incident of overstressing the tendon, or it may result from a series of stresses that produce small tears over time (overuse). Patients who develop arthritis in the heel have an increased risk for developing Achilles tendonitis. This occurs more often in people who middle aged and older. The condition also may develop in people who exercise infrequently and in those who are just beginning an exercise program, because inactive muscles and tendons have little flexibility because of inactivity. It is important for people who are just starting to exercise to stretch properly, start slowly, and increase gradually. In some cases, a congenital (i.e., present at birth) condition causes Achilles tendonitis. Typically, this is due to abnormal rotation of the foot and leg (pronation), which causes the arch of the foot to flatten and the leg to twist more than normal.
Achilles tendonitis is an injury that occurs when your Achilles tendon — the large band of tissues connecting the muscles in the back of your lower leg to your heel bone — becomes inflamed or irritated. The signs and symptoms of Achilles tendonitis often develop gradually. You’ll feel pain and stiffness in your Achilles, especially when you first get out of bed. The pain lessens as you warm up, and may even disappear as you continue running. Once you stop, the pain returns and may feel even worse. You may also notice a crackling or creaking sound when you touch or move your Achilles tendon.
During the physical exam, your doctor will gently press on the affected area to determine the location of pain, tenderness or swelling. He or she will also evaluate the flexibility, alignment, range of motion and reflexes of your foot and ankle. Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests to assess your condition, X-rays. While X-rays can’t visualize soft tissues such as tendons, they may help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Ultrasound. This device uses sound waves to visualize soft tissues like tendons. Ultrasound can also produce real-time images of the Achilles tendon in motion. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and a very strong magnet, MRI machines can produce very detailed images of the Achilles tendon.
Treatment for Achilles tendonitis, depends on the severity of the injury. If heel pain, tenderness, swelling, or discomfort in the back of the lower leg occurs, physical activity that produces the symptoms should be discontinued. If the problem returns or persists, a medical professional should be consulted. If pain develops even with proper stretching and training techniques, the patient should consult a podiatrist to check for hyperpronation and adequate arch support. The addition of an orthotic may be enough to maintain good arch and foot alignment and eliminate pain. If damage to the tendon is minor, the injury may respond to a simple course of treatment known as RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Patients are advised to rest the tendon by keeping off their feet as much as possible, apply ice packs for 20 minutes at a time every hour for a day or two to reduce swelling, compress the ankle and foot with a firmly (not tightly) wrapped elastic bandage and elevate the foot whenever possible to minimize swelling. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen may be used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.
If non-surgical approaches fail to restore the tendon to its normal condition, surgery may be necessary. The foot and ankle surgeon will select the best procedure to repair the tendon, based upon the extent of the injury, the patient?s age and activity level, and other factors.
Suggestions to reduce your risk of Achilles tendonitis include, incorporate stretching into your warm-up and cool-down routines, maintain 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.