Achilles tendinitis is a common condition that causes pain along the back of the leg near the heel. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects your calf muscles to your heel bone and is used when you walk, run, and jump. Although the Achilles tendon can withstand great stresses from running and jumping, it is also prone to tendinitis, a condition associated with overuse and degeneration. Simply defined, tendinitis is inflammation of a tendon. Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or disease, and often causes swelling, pain, or irritation. There are two types of Achilles tendinitis, based upon which part of the tendon is inflamed. Noninsertional Achilles tendinitis, Noninsertional Achilles Tendinitis. In noninsertional In both noninsertional and insertional Achilles tendinitis, damaged tendon fibers may also calcify (harden). Tendinitis that affects the insertion of the tendon can occur at any time, even in patients who are not active.
Achilles tendinitis is caused by repeated stress to the tendon, not a direct injury. Often times, this can happen from doing too much too soon and not giving your body enough time to rest or adjust to the increase in intensity or amount of exercise. Another contributing factor can be tight calf muscles. Having tight calf muscles and starting an activity can put added stress on the achilles tendon.
The Achilles tendon is a strong muscle and is not usually damaged by one specific injury. Tendinitis develops from repetitive stress, sudden increase or intensity of exercise activity, tight calf muscles, or a bone spur that rubs against the tendon. Common signs and symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis include, gradual onset of pain at the back of the ankle which may develop in several days up to several months to become bothersome. Heel pain during physical activities which may diminish after warming up in early stages, or become a constant problem if the problem becomes chronic. Stiffness at the back of the ankle in the morning. During inactivity, pain eases. Swelling or thickening of the Achilles tendon. Painful sensation if the Achilles tendon is palpated. If a pop is heard suddenly, then there is an increased chance that the Achilles tendon has been torn and immediate medical attention is needed.
During the physical exam, your doctor will gently press on the affected area to determine the location of pain, tenderness or swelling. He or she will also evaluate the flexibility, alignment, range of motion and reflexes of your foot and ankle. Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests to assess your condition, X-rays. While X-rays can't visualize soft tissues such as tendons, they may help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Ultrasound. This device uses sound waves to visualize soft tissues like tendons. Ultrasound can also produce real-time images of the Achilles tendon in motion. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and a very strong magnet, MRI machines can produce very detailed images of the Achilles tendon.
Proper footwear with a strong and secure counter (the heel circumference) may help to encourage heeling of the tendon. A tendinitis will occasionally resolve on it?s own, with rest, ice, and gentle stretching. If symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, consult your physician. Your physician may suggest physiotherapy and custom orthotics. Physiotherapy can suggest appropriate exercises and modalities to aid in the healing process. Custom orthotics can be very successful in treating the problem, as the original cause may be due to an improper alignment of the foot and heel. Re-aligning the foot to a neutral position may provide an optimal, biomechanically sound environment for healing to occur.
When the tendon tears or ruptures the variety of surgical techniques are available to repair the damage and restore the tendons function. Recent research that is done at Emory University Department of orthopedics have perfected the repair of the Achilles tendon. The procedure is generally involves making an incision in the back of your leg and stitching the torn tendon together using a technique developed and tested by Dr. Labib. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue the repair may be reinforced with other tendons.
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.