The Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, can withstand significant pressure from physical activities. Achilles tendinitis is estimated to account for approximately 11 percent of all running injuries, as the Achilles tendon provides the momentum to push off to walk or run. Achilles tendinitis, also called Achilles tendinopathy, results from overuse, injury or disease of the Achilles tendon, which causes the area to become inflamed. There are two types of Achilles tendinitis: Non-insertional Achilles Tendinitis – Fibers that are located in the middle portion of the tendon began to develop small tears that cause swelling and thickening. This type of tendinitis is usually found in younger people who are very active. Insertional Achilles Tendinitis – Develops where the tendon attaches to the heel bone in the lower part of the heel. Extra bone growth also called bone spurs form because of this tendinitis and can affect patients at any time, even if they are not active.
Achilles tendinitis is caused by repetitive or intense strain on the Achilles tendon, the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. This tendon is used when you walk, run, jump or push up on your toes. The structure of the Achilles tendon weakens with age, which can make it more susceptible to injury – particularly in people who may participate in sports only on the weekends or who have suddenly increased the intensity of their running programs.
Achilles tendinitis symptoms present as mild to severe pain or swelling near the ankle. The pain may lead to weakness and decreased mobility, symptoms that increase gradually while walking or running. Over time, the pain worsens, and stiffness in the tendon may be noted in the morning. Mild activity may provide relief. Physical exam may reveal an audible cracking sound when the Achilles tendon is palpated. The lower leg may exhibit weakness. A ruptured or torn Achilles tendon is severely painful and warrants immediate medical attention. The signs of a ruptured or torn Achilles tendon include. Acute, excruciating pain. Impaired mobility, unable to point the foot downward or walk on the toes. Weight bearing or walking on the affected side is not possible.
Laboratory studies usually are not necessary in evaluating and diagnosing an Achilles tendon rupture or injury, although evaluation may help to rule out some of the other possibilities in the differential diagnosis. Imaging studies. Plain radiography: Radiographs are more useful for ruling out other injuries than for ruling in Achilles tendon ruptures. Ultrasonography: Ultrasonography of the leg and thigh can help to evaluate the possibility of deep venous thrombosis and also can be used to rule out a Baker cyst; in experienced hands, ultrasonography can identify a ruptured Achilles tendon or the signs of tendinosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI can facilitate definitive diagnosis of a disrupted tendon and can be used to distinguish between paratenonitis, tendinosis, and bursitis.
Supportive shoes and orthotics. Pain from insertional Achilles tendinitis is often helped by certain shoes, as well as orthotic devices. For example, shoes that are softer at the back of the heel can reduce irritation of the tendon. In addition, heel lifts can take some strain off the tendon. Heel lifts are also very helpful for patients with insertional tendinitis because they can move the heel away from the back of the shoe, where rubbing can occur. They also take some strain off the tendon. Like a heel lift, a silicone Achilles sleeve can reduce irritation from the back of a shoe. If your pain is severe, your doctor may recommend a walking boot for a short time. This gives the tendon a chance to rest before any therapy is begun. Extended use of a boot is discouraged, though, because it can weaken your calf muscle. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT). During this procedure, high-energy shockwave impulses stimulate the healing process in damaged tendon tissue. ESWT has not shown consistent results and, therefore, is not commonly performed. ESWT is noninvasive-it does not require a surgical incision. Because of the minimal risk involved, ESWT is sometimes tried before surgery is considered.
Most people will improve with simple measures or physiotherapy. A small number continue to have major problems which interfere with their lifestyle. In this situation an operation may be considered. If an operation is being considered, the surgeon will interview you and examine you again and may want you to have further treatment before making a decision about an operation. Before undergoing Achilles tendonitis surgery, London based patients, and those who can travel, will be advised to undergo a scan, which will reveal whether there is a problem in the tendon which can be corrected by surgery. Patients will also have the opportunity to ask any questions and raise any concerns that they may have, so that they can proceed with the treatment with peace of mind.
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.