Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury of the Achilles tendon, the band of tissue that connects calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to your heel bone. Achilles tendinitis most commonly occurs in runners who have suddenly increased the intensity or duration of their runs. It’s also common in middle-aged people who play sports, such as tennis or basketball, only on the weekends. Most cases of Achilles tendinitis can be treated with relatively simple, at-home care under your doctor’s supervision. Self-care strategies are usually necessary to prevent recurring episodes. More-serious cases of Achilles tendinitis can lead to tendon tears (ruptures) that may require surgical repair.
Some of the causes of Achilles tendonitis / tendinosis include. Overuse injury – this occurs when the Achilles tendon is stressed until it develops small tears. Runners seem to be the most susceptible. People who play sports that involve jumping, such as basketball, are also at increased risk. Arthritis – Achilles tendonitis can be a part of generalised inflammatory arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis. In these conditions both tendons can be affected. Foot problems – some people with over pronated feet (Flat Feet) or feet that turn inward while walking are prone to Achilles tendonitis. The flattened arch pulls on calf muscles and keeps the Achilles tendon under tight strain. This constant mechanical stress on the heel and tendon can cause inflammation, pain and swelling of the tendon. Being overweight can make the problem worse. Footwear – wearing shoes with minimal support while walking or running can increase the risk, as can wearing high heels. Overweight and obesity – being overweight places more strain on many parts of the body, including the Achilles tendon.
Symptoms of acute achilles tendonitis will be a gradual onset of achilles pain at the back of the ankle, just above the heel bone. This may develop over a period of days. The achilles tendon may be painful and stiff at the start of exercise and first thing in the morning. As the tendon warms up the pain will go often for it to return later in the day or towards the end of a prolonged training session. The tendon will be very tender on palpation or pressing in on the achilles tendon or squeezing it from the sides. Chronic achilles tendonitis may follow on from acute achilles tendonitis if it goes untreated or is not allowed sufficient rest. Chronic achilles tendonitis is a difficult condition to treat, particularly in older athletes who appear to suffer more often.
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.
Most cases of Achilles tendonitis can be treated at home. Here’s what to do. Stop doing the activity that led to the injury. Avoid putting stress on your legs and feet, and give your tendon plenty of time to fully recover. Use the RICE formula. Don’t exercise for a few days, or try an exercise that doesn’t stress your feet, such as swimming. If necessary, your doctor may recommend that you use crutches or wear a walking boot to keep weight off your foot. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or a cold compress to your tendon for 15 minutes or more after you exercise or if you feel pain in the tendon. Use tape or an athletic wrap to keep swelling down and help support and immobilize the tendon. Lie down and raise your foot above the level of your heart, and if possible, try to sleep with your foot elevated. This will help keep the swelling to a minimum. Take anti-inflammatory medications. Pain relievers like ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce swelling in the affected area. Stretch and exercise your ankles and calf muscles while you recover. Keeping your muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong and flexible will aid in your recovery and help you keep from reinjuring your Achilles tendon. A doctor or a physical therapist can help you come up with a good exercise program. Try a pair of prescription orthotic inserts for your shoes if your doctor thinks it will help. Sometimes orthotics can be helpful. Talk to your doctor or someone trained in fitting orthotics to find out if they might work for you. Achilles tendon surgery is rarely needed. It’s usually only done if the tendon breaks, and then only as a last resort after other methods of therapy have been tried. Most cases of Achilles tendonitis will get better on their own with rest and minor treatment.
Mini-Open Achilles Tendon Repair. During a mini-open Achilles tendon repair surgery, 2 to 8 small stab incisions are made to pull the edges of the tendon tear together and suture the torn edges to repair the damage. During this procedure the surgeon will make one 3 to 4 cm long incision on the back of your ankle and 2 to 4 smaller vertical incisions around the long incision. These smaller veritical incisions are made with a pair of surgical scissors and are commonly referred to as “stab incisions”. Once the incisions are opened up, the surgeon will place precise sutures with non-absorbable stitches to strengthen the damaged Achilles tendon tissue. This suturing technique reduces the amount of scar tissue on the tendon after surgery and provides better surface healing of the skin. Unlike the traditional method of an open surgery, this procedure has less risks and complications involved. To learn about all risks you may face be sure to speak to your doctor.
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.