Achilles tendinitis. Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the largest tendon in the body, which runs from the calf to the heel bone. Noninsertional Achilles tendonitis affects fibers in the middle of the tendon. Insertional Achilles tendonitis affects the lower portion of the tendon where it attaches to the heel bone. Both types can result from repetitive stress to the tendon or from overstressing the tendon during exercise. Damaged tendon fibers can calcify and bone spurs can form where the tendon attaches to the bone. Symptoms may include pain and stiffness of the tendon – which may occur from either inactivity (such as first thing in the morning) or after activity – thickening or swelling of the tendon or bone spurs.
Over-pronation, injury and overstresses of the tendon are some of the most common causes. Risk factors include tight heel cords, poor foot alignment, and recent changes in activities or shoes. During a normal gait cycle, the upper and lower leg rotate in unison (i.e. internally during pronation and externally during supination). However, when a person over-pronates, the lower leg is locked into the foot and therefore continues to rotate internally past the end of the contact phase while the femur begins to rotate externally at the beginning of midstance. The Gastrocnemius muscle is attached to the upper leg and rotates externally while the Soleus muscle is attached to the lower leg and rotates internally during pronation. The resulting counter rotation of the upper and lower leg causes a shearing force to occur in the Achilles tendon. This counter rotation twists the tendon at its weakest area, namely the Achilles tendon itself, and causes the inflammation. Since the tendon is avascular, once inflammation sets in, it tends to be chronic.
The most common site of Achilles Tendonitis is at the heel to 4 inches above the heel. The diagnosis of this problem is made when the following signs are present. Pain in the Achilles tendon with up and down movement of the foot at the ankle. Pain in the Achilles tendon when you squeeze the tendon from side to side. If you are unable to move the foot either up or down, or you have intense pain when trying to walk, you may have a tear of the Achilles tendon, and you should see a doctor immediately. Also if you have severe pain in the calf, with or without discolorations of the skin, you may have a blood clot, and this is a medical emergency; see a doctor immediately. If you do not fall into either of these categories then try the following suggestions.
Examination of the achilles tendon is inspection for muscle atrophy, swelling, asymmetry, joint effusions and erythema. Atrophy is an important clue to the duration of the tendinopathy and it is often present with chronic conditions. Swelling, asymmetry and erythema in pathologic tendons are often observed in the examination. Joint effusions are uncommon with tendinopathy and suggest the possibility of intra-articular pathology. Range of motion testing, strength and flexibility are often limited on the side of the tendinopathy. Palpation tends to elicit well-localized tenderness that is similar in quality and location to the pain experienced during activity. Physical examinations of the Achilles tendon often reveals palpable nodules and thickening. Anatomic deformities, such as forefoot and heel varus and excessive pes planus or foot pronation, should receive special attention. These anatomic deformities are often associated with this problem. In case extra research is wanted, an echography is the first choice of examination when there is a suspicion of tendinosis. Imaging studies are not necessary to diagnose achilles tendonitis, but may be useful with differential diagnosis. Ultrasound is the imaging modality of first choice as it provides a clear indication of tendon width, changes of water content within the tendon and collagen integrity, as well as bursal swelling. MRI may be indicated if diagnosis is unclear or symptoms are atypical. MRI may show increased signal within the Achilles.
Treatment for Achilles tendonitis, depends on the severity of the injury. If heel pain, tenderness, swelling, or discomfort in the back of the lower leg occurs, physical activity that produces the symptoms should be discontinued. If the problem returns or persists, a medical professional should be consulted. If pain develops even with proper stretching and training techniques, the patient should consult a podiatrist to check for hyperpronation and adequate arch support. The addition of an orthotic may be enough to maintain good arch and foot alignment and eliminate pain. If damage to the tendon is minor, the injury may respond to a simple course of treatment known as RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Patients are advised to rest the tendon by keeping off their feet as much as possible, apply ice packs for 20 minutes at a time every hour for a day or two to reduce swelling, compress the ankle and foot with a firmly (not tightly) wrapped elastic bandage and elevate the foot whenever possible to minimize swelling. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen may be used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.
Not every Achilles tendon injury or condition requires surgery. It is generally understood by doctors and surgeons, that surgery will introduce more scar tissue into the Achilles tendon. This added scar tissue will be problematic, requiring physical therapy and conservative treatment options post-surgery. If not dealt with properly, your ankle and Achilles tendon could end up in worse condition than before the surgery! This is why surgery is only performed as a last resort.
The following measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis. Adequately stretch and warm up prior to exercise. Warm down and stretch after exercise. Choose footwear carefully and use footwear appropriate to the sport being undertaken. Use orthotic devices in footwear to correctly support the foot. Exercise within fitness levels and follow a sensible exercise programme. Develop strong, flexible calf muscles.