The Achilles is a large tendon that connects two major calf muscles to the back of the heel bone. If this tendon is overworked and tightens, the collagen fibres of the tendon may break, causing inflammation and pain. This can result in scar tissue formation, a type of tissue that does not have the flexibility of tendon tissue. Four types of Achilles injuries exist, 1) Paratendonitis – involves a crackly or crepitus feeling in the tissues surrounding the Achilles tendon. 2) Proliferative Tendinitis – the Achilles tendon thickens as a result of high tension placed on it. 3) Degenerative Tendinitis – a chronic condition where the Achilles tendon is permanently damaged and does not regain its structure. 4) Enthesis – an inflammation at the point where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone.
Achilles tendonitis is aggravated by activities that repeatedly stress the tendon, causing inflammation. In some cases even prolonged periods of standing can cause symptoms. In many people who have developed achilles tendonitis, chronic shortening of the gastroc-soleus muscle complex is the reason that home remedies and anti-inflammatory medications fail. In these instances the muscle itself becomes shortened and creates a constant stress at the tendon?s attachment. Like a green branch that is slowly bent, eventually it begins to breakdown. Over a prolonged period the tendon becomes inflamed, and in the worst cases, appears swollen and thickened. In certain circumstances attempts to heal have failed and the body?s inability to heal the tissue results in degenerative changes known as achilles tendonosis. Anti-inflammatory medication, stretching and ice may only provide temporary relief, because they address the inflammation but not the root cause.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include weakness in the leg, slight pain above the heel in the lower leg after activity, feeling of stiffness in the leg that usually appears in the morning and lessens throughout the day, bad pain the day after exercising, pain as you climb stairs or go uphill, swelling in the area of the Achilles tendon, creaking or cracking noise when you press on the Achilles tendon.
If you think you might have Achilles tendonitis, check in with your doctor before it gets any worse. Your doc will ask about the activities you’ve been doing and will examine your leg, foot, ankle, and knee for range of motion. If your pain is more severe, the doctor may also make sure you haven’t ruptured (torn) your Achilles tendon. To check this, the doc might have you lie face down and bend your knee while he or she presses on your calf muscles to see if your foot flexes. Any flexing of the foot means the tendon is at least partly intact. It’s possible that the doctor might also order an X-ray or MRI scan of your foot and leg to check for fractures, partial tears of the tendon, or signs of a condition that might get worse. Foot and ankle pain also might be a sign of other overuse injuries that can cause foot and heel pain, like plantar fasciitis and Sever’s disease. If you also have any problems like these, they also need to be treated.
The initial aim of the treatment in acute cases is to reduce strain on the tendon and reduce inflammation until rehabilitation can begin. This may involve, avoiding or severely limiting activities that may aggravate the condition, such as running or uphill climbs. Using shoe inserts (orthoses) to take pressure off the tendon. Wear supportive shoes. Reducing Inflammation by icing. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Heel cups and heel lifts can be used temporarily to take pressure off the tendon, but must not be used long term as it can lead to a shortening of the calf. Calf Compression Sleeves. Placing the foot in a cast or restrictive ankle-boot to minimize movement and give the tendon time to heal. This may be recommended in severe cases and used for about eight weeks.
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.
Warm up slowly by running at least one minute per mile slower than your usual pace for the first mile. Running backwards during your first mile is also a very effective way to warm up the Achilles, because doing so produces a gentle eccentric load that acts to strengthen the tendon. Runners should also avoid making sudden changes in mileage, and they should be particularly careful when wearing racing flats, as these shoes produce very rapid rates of pronation that increase the risk of Achilles tendon injury. If you have a tendency to be stiff, spend extra time stretching. If you?re overly flexible, perform eccentric load exercises preventively. Lastly, it is always important to control biomechanical alignment issues, either with proper running shoes and if necessary, stock or custom orthotics.