Achilles tendinitis (tendonitis) or Achilles tendon inflammation occurs when the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed, as a result, of the Achilles tendon being put under too much strain. The Achilles tendon joins the calf muscles to the heel bone, and is found at the back of a person’s lower leg. It is the largest tendon in the body and can endure great force, but is still susceptible to injury. Achilles tendinitis is usually the result of strenuous, high impact exercise, such as running. If ignored, Achilles tendinitis can lead to the tendon tearing or rupturing, and therefore it is important to seek the necessary treatment. Sometimes, treatment can be as simple as getting rest or changing an exercise routine. However, in more severe cases, surgery may be required.
The Achilles tendon is a strong band of connective tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. When the muscle contracts, the tendon transmits the power of this contraction to the heel, producing movement. The Achilles tendon moves through a protective sheath and is made up of thousands of tiny fibres. It is thought that Achilles tendonitis develops when overuse of the tendon causes the tiny fibres that make up the tendon to tear. This causes inflammation, pain and swelling. As the tendon swells it can begin to rub against the sheath surrounding it, irritating the sheath and causing it too to become inflamed and swollen. It has a poor blood supply, which can make it susceptible to injury and can make recovery from injury slow. Factors that can lead to the development of Achilles tendonitis include, tight or weak calf muscles, rapidly increasing the amount or intensity of exercise. Hill climbing or stair climbing exercises. Changes in footwear, particularly changing from wearing high-heeled shoes to wearing flat shoes. Wearing inadequate or inappropriate shoes for the sporting activity being undertaken. Not adequately warming up and stretching prior to exercise. A sudden sharp movement that causes the calf muscles to contract and the stress on the Achilles tendon to be increased. This can cause the tendon fibres to tear.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include, pain and stiffness along the Achilles tendon in the morning, pain along the tendon or back of the heel that worsens with activity, Severe pain the day after exercising, thickening of the tendon, bone spur (insertional tendinitis) swelling that is present all the time and gets worse throughout the day with activity, If you have experienced a sudden “pop” in the back of your calf or heel, you may have ruptured (torn) your Achilles tendon. See your doctor immediately if you think you may have torn your tendon.
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.
Achilles tendinitis can typically be treated at home by following the R.I.C.E. treatment method. Rest. Rest the tendon by avoiding activities that irritate the tendon or increase swelling. However, this does not mean you should be completely inactive for long periods of time, as this can cause stiffness in your joints. It?s still important to stretch in order to maintain strength and flexibility and partake in activities that don?t put direct pressure on the tendon, such as bicycling. Ice. Apply ice to the affected area for 20-minutes at a time, every couple hours, as needed, to reduce swelling and pain. Compression. Use compression bandages to help reduce swelling. Elevation. Elevate your ankle above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. It is particularly important to do this at night while you sleep. Simply place a pillow or two under your ankle to keep it elevated. Once the tendon has healed, be sure to gradually return to more strenuous activities. If flattened arches contributed to the injury, wear shoes with appropriate support or inserts to prevent the condition from progressing or recurring. If these non-surgical treatments have not been able to provide relief of symptoms after several months, surgery may be performed to remove inflamed tissue. However, this is not usually recommended unless all other options have been exhausted. Consult your doctor for more information about surgical treatment options.
Chronic Achilles tendon tears can be more complicated to repair. A tendon that has torn and retracted (pulled back) into the leg will scar in the shortened position over time. Restoring normal tendon length is usually not an issue when surgery is performed within a few weeks of the injury. However, when there has been a delay of months or longer, the treatment can be more complicated. Several procedures can be used to add length to a chronic Achilles tear. A turndown procedure uses tissue folded down from the top of the calf to add length to the Achilles tendon. Tendon transfers from other tendons of the ankle can also be performed to help restore function of the Achilles. The results of surgery in a chronic situation are seldom as good as an acute repair. However, in some patients, these procedures can help restore function of a chronically damaged Achilles.
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.