Achilles Tendinitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendinitisThe Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body. It can withstand forces of 1,000 pounds or more. It is also the most frequently ruptured tendon. Both professional and weekend athletes can suffer from Achilles tendinitis (informally: ?tendonitis?), a common overuse injury and inflammation of the tendon.




Causes

Achilles tendonitis is a common sports injury caused by repeated or intense strain on the tendon. But non-athletes also can get it if they put a lot of stress on their feet. Other things that contribute to Achilles tendonitis include. An increase in activity. Starting a training program after a period of inactivity or adding miles or hills to a jogging regimen are two examples of things that put people at risk for Achilles tendonitis. Sports that require sudden starts and stops; for example, tennis and basketball. A change in footwear, or wearing old or badly fitting shoes. New shoes, worn-out shoes, or the wrong size shoes can cause a person's feet to overcompensate and put stress on the Achilles tendon. Additionally, wearing high heels all the time can cause the tendon and calf muscles to get shorter, and the switch to flat shoes and exercise can put extra strain on the heel. Running up hills. Going uphill forces the Achilles tendon to stretch beyond its normal range. Weak calf muscles, flat arches, "overpronation" (feet that roll in when running), or "oversupination" (feet that roll out when running). Overpronation and oversupination make the lower leg rotate and put a twisting stress on the tendon. Exercising without warming up. Tight calf muscles or muscles that lack flexibility decrease a person's range of motion and put an extra strain on the tendon. Running or exercising on a hard or uneven surface or doing lunges or plyometrics without adequate training. A traumatic injury to the Achilles tendon.




Symptoms

People with achilles tendinitis experience mild aching on the back of the leg close to the heel after increased activity. Stiffness in the back of the ankle when you first wake up in the morning, which subsides after mild activity. In some cases, the area may have swelling, thickening or be warm to the touch. Tenderness to touch along the tendon in the back of the ankle. Pain when the tendon is stretched (i.e. when you lift your foot/toes up).




Diagnosis

There is enlargement and warmth of the tendon 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Pain and sometimes a scratching feeling may be created by gently squeezing the tendon between the thumb and forefinger during ankle motion. There may be weakness in push-off strength with walking. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can define the extent of degeneration, the degree to which the tendon sheath is involved and the presence of other problems in this area, but the diagnosis is mostly clinical.




Nonsurgical Treatment

Your podiatrist may recommend one or more of these treatments to manage your pain. A bandage specifically designed to restrict motion of the tendon. Over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen). Custom orthotic shoe inserts to relieve stress on the tendon. Rest. Switching to a low impact exercise such as swimming, that does not stress the tendon. Stretching, massage, ultrasound and appropriate exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the achilles tendon. In extreme cases, surgery is necessary to remove the damaged tissue and repair any tears.

Achilles Tendonitis




Surgical Treatment

Surgery is considered the last resort. It is only recommended if all other treatment options have failed after at least six months. In this situation, badly damaged portions of the tendon may be removed. If the tendon has ruptured, surgery is necessary to re-attach the tendon. Rehabilitation, including stretching and strength exercises, is started soon after the surgery. In most cases, normal activities can be resumed after about 10 weeks. Return to competitive sport for some people may be delayed for about three to six months.




Prevention

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.

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