Achilles Tendinitis is the inflammation of the Achilles Tendon located in the heel, and is typically caused by overuse of the affected limb. Most often, it occurs in athletes who are not training with the proper techniques and/or equipment. When the Achilles Tendon is injured, blood vessels and nerve fibers from surrounding areas migrate into the tendon, and the nerve fibers may be responsible for the discomfort. Healing is often slow in this area due to the comparably low amount of cellular activity and blood flowing through the area.
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.
If you have Achilles tendinitis or Achilles enthesopathy, you are likely to experience the following symptoms. Pain. You may notice aching, burning, or tearing pains at the back of your heel or above the ankle. The pain can range from mild to very severe and disabling. It is most noticeable in the following circumstances. After resting. Many people report that pain increases when they first get out of bed in the morning or after sitting for a period of time. After exercise. Pain may increase if you exercise or stand for a period of time. A lump. In some cases, a tender lump can develop at the site of the injured tendon (tendinosis). Bone spurs. When the injury occurs at the point where the tendon attaches to the foot, a bone spur may develop on the heel.
Physicians usually pinch your Achilles tendon with their fingers to test for swelling and pain. If the tendon itself is inflamed, your physician may be able to feel warmth and swelling around the tissue, or, in chronic cases, lumps of scar tissue. You will probably be asked to walk around the exam room so your physician can examine your stride. To check for complete rupture of the tendon, your physician may perform the Thompson test. Your physician squeezes your calf; if your Achilles is not torn, the foot will point downward. If your Achilles is torn, the foot will remain in the same position. Should your physician require a closer look, these imaging tests may be performed. X-rays taken from different angles may be used to rule out other problems, such as ankle fractures. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic waves to create pictures of your ankle that let physicians more clearly look at the tendons surrounding your ankle joint.
Relieving the stress is the first course of action. Treatment involves ice therapy and activity modification to reduce inflamation. Active stretching and strengthening exercises will assist rehabilitation of the gastrocnemius-soleus complex. When placed in a heeled shoe, the patient will immediately notice a difference, compared to flat ground. It is recommended that the patient be fitted with proper shoes & orthotics to control pronation and maintain proper alignment, relieving the stress on the achilles tendon. Tightness in the tendon itself can be helped by an extra heel lift added to the orthotics. The patient can expect a slow recovery over a period of months.
Open Achilles Tendon Surgery is the traditional Achilles tendon surgery and remains the ‘gold standard’ of surgery treatments. During this procedure one long incision (10 to 17 cm in length) is made slightly on an angle on the back on your lower leg/heel. An angled incision like this one allows for the patient’s comfort during future recovery during physical therapy and when transitioning back into normal footwear. Open surgery is performed to provide the surgeon with better visibility of the Achilles tendon. This visibility allows the surgeon to remove scar tissue on the tendon, damaged/frayed tissue and any calcium deposits or bone spurs that have formed in the ankle joint. Once this is done, the surgeon will have a full unobstructed view of the tendon tear and can precisely re-align/suture the edges of the tear back together. An open incision this large also provides enough room for the surgeon to prepare a tendon transfer if it’s required. When repairing the tendon, non-absorbale sutures may be placed above and below the tear to make sure that the repair is as strong as possible. A small screw/anchor is used to reattach the tendon back to the heel bone if the Achilles tendon has been ruptured completely. An open procedure with precise suturing improves overall strength of your Achilles tendon during the recovery process, making it less likely to re-rupture in the future.
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.