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).
Achilles tendinitis is usually caused by straining the Achilles tendon through intense activity or a sudden increase in exercise. Individuals who play basketball often develop Achilles tendinitis as a result of pivoting, jumping, and running. These repetitive movements put pressure on the tendon and can gradually wear it down over time. Increasing the intensity of your workouts may also lead to the development of Achilles tendinitis. This is commonly seen in long distance runners who do quite a bit of uphill running. Similarly, if you start exercising more frequently you may also develop the condition due to overuse of the tendon. Not stretching properly before exercise can also make the tendon more prone to injury. Achilles tendinitis is also common in individuals whose feet have a flattened arch, as this places more stress on the tendon. The condition can also be triggered by arthritis, as joint pain can cause one to compensate by putting more pressure on the Achilles tendon.
Patients with an Achilles tendon rupture frequently present with complaints of a sudden snap in the lower calf associated with acute, severe pain. The patient reports feeling like he or she has been shot, kicked, or cut in the back of the leg, which may result in an inability to ambulate further. A patient with Achilles tendon rupture will be unable to stand on his or her toes on the affected side. Tendinosis is often pain free. Typically, the only sign of the condition may be a palpable intratendinous nodule that accompanies the tendon as the ankle is placed through its range of motion (ROM). Patients with paratenonitis typically present with warmth, swelling, and diffuse tenderness localized 2-6 cm proximal to the tendon’s insertion. Paratenonitis with tendinosis. This is diagnosed in patients with activity-related pain, as well as swelling of the tendon sheath and tendon nodularity.
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.
Supportive shoes and orthotics. Pain from insertional Achilles tendinitis is often helped by certain shoes, as well as orthotic devices. For example, shoes that are softer at the back of the heel can reduce irritation of the tendon. In addition, heel lifts can take some strain off the tendon. Heel lifts are also very helpful for patients with insertional tendinitis because they can move the heel away from the back of the shoe, where rubbing can occur. They also take some strain off the tendon. Like a heel lift, a silicone Achilles sleeve can reduce irritation from the back of a shoe. If your pain is severe, your doctor may recommend a walking boot for a short time. This gives the tendon a chance to rest before any therapy is begun. Extended use of a boot is discouraged, though, because it can weaken your calf muscle. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT). During this procedure, high-energy shockwave impulses stimulate the healing process in damaged tendon tissue. ESWT has not shown consistent results and, therefore, is not commonly performed. ESWT is noninvasive-it does not require a surgical incision. Because of the minimal risk involved, ESWT is sometimes tried before surgery is considered.
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.
Stretching of the gastrocnemius (keep knee straight) and soleus (keep knee bent) muscles. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, relax slowly. Repeat stretches 2 – 3 times per day. Remember to stretch well before running strengthening of foot and calf muscles (eg, heel raises) correct shoes, specifically motion-control shoes and orthotics to correct overpronation. Gradual progression of training programme. Avoid excessive hill training. Incorporate rest into training programme.