The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel and is active during almost all activities including walking, jumping, and swimming. This dense tendon can withstand large forces, but can become inflamed and painful during periods of overuse. Pain results from inflammation (tendonitis) or a degenerating tendon (tendinosis). Achilles tendon pathologies include rupture and tendonitis. Many experts now believe, however, that tendonitis is a misleading term that should no longer be used, because signs of true inflammation are almost never present on histologic examination. Instead, the following histopathologically determined nomenclature has evolved. Paratenonitis: Characterized by paratenon inflammation and thickening, as well as fibrin adhesions. Tendinosis: Characterized by intrasubstance disarray and degeneration of the tendon.
Achilles tendonitis most commonly occurs due to repetitive or prolonged activities placing strain on the Achilles tendon. This typically occurs due to excessive walking, running or jumping activities. Occasionally, it may occur suddenly due to a high force going through the Achilles tendon beyond what it can withstand. This may be due to a sudden acceleration or forceful jump. The condition may also occur following a calf or Achilles tear, following a poorly rehabilitated sprained ankle or in patients with poor foot biomechanics or inappropriate footwear. In athletes, this condition is commonly seen in running sports such as marathon, triathlon, football and athletics.
Recurring localized pain, sometimes severe, along the tendon during or a few hours after running. Morning tenderness about an inch and a half above the point where the Achilles tendon is attached to the heel bone. Sluggishness in your leg. Mild or severe swelling. Stiffness that generally diminishes as the tendon warms up with use.
A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose an Achilles injury such as Achilles tendonitis. Occasionally, further investigations such as an Ultrasound, X-ray or MRI scan may be required to assist with diagnosis and assess the severity of the condition.
Treatment will focus on relieving the pain and preventing further injury. Your podiatrist may create shoe inserts or a soft cast to effectively immobilize the affected area for a period of time. (Often, a couple of weeks are needed for the tendon to heal.) Medication can help too. Your podiatrist may recommend or prescribe oral medication.
It is important to understand that surgery may not give you 100% functionality of your leg, but you should be able to return to most if not all of your pre-injury activities. These surgical procedures are often performed with very successful results. What truly makes a difference is your commitment to a doctor recommended rehabilitation program after surgery as there is always a possibility of re-injuring your tendon even after a surgical procedure. One complication of surgical repair for Achilles tendon tear is that skin can become thin at site of incision, and may have limited blood flow.
Although Achilles tendinitis cannot be completely prevented, the risk of developing it can be lowered. Being aware of the possible causes does help, but the risk can be greatly reduced by taking the following precautions. Getting a variety of exercise - alternating between high-impact exercises (e.g. running) and low-impact exercise (e.g. swimming) can help, as it means there are days when the Achilles tendon is under less tension. Limit certain exercises - doing too much hill running, for example, can put excessive strain on the Achilles tendon. Wearing the correct shoes and replacing them when worn - making sure they support the arch and protect the heel will create less tension in the tendon. Using arch supports inside the shoe, if the shoe is in good condition but doesn't provide the required arch support this is a cheaper (and possibly more effective) alternative to replacing the shoe completely. Stretching, doing this before and after exercising helps to keep the Achilles tendon flexible, which means less chance of tendinitis developing. There is no harm in stretching every day (even on days of rest), as this will only further improve flexibility. Gradually increasing the intensity of a workout - Achilles tendinitis can occur when the tendon is suddenly put under too much strain, warming up and increasing the level of activity gradually gives your muscles time to loosen up and puts less pressure on the tendon.