Overview

Achilles TendinitisThe Achilles tendon is the tendon that attaches the gastrocnemius (calf muscles) to the calcaneus bone (back of the heel). It is important in activities that involve plantar flexion of the ankle (pushing down with the foot or doing heel raises). The Achilles tendon can get inflamed (tendinitis) or it can degenerate/wear out (tendinopathy) with repetitive activities. Aggravating activities include running and/or repetitive jumping.

Causes

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.

Symptoms

A symptom is something the patient feels and reports, while a sign is something other people, such as a doctor, detect. For example, pain is a symptom, while a rash is a sign. The most typical symptom of Achilles tendinitis is a gradual buildup of pain that deteriorates with time. With Achilles tendinitis, the Achilles tendon may feel sore a few centimeters above where it meets the heel bone. Other possible signs and symptoms of Achilles tendinitis are, the Achilles tendon feels sore a few centimeters above where it meets the heel bone, lower leg feels stiff or lower leg feels slow and weak. Slight pain in the back of the leg that appears after running or exercising, and worsens, pain in the Achilles tendon that occurs while running or a couple of hours afterwards. Greater pain experienced when running fast (such as sprinting), for a long time (such as cross country), or even when climbing stairs. The Achilles tendon swells or forms a bump or the Achilles tendon creaks when touched or moved. Please note that these symptoms, and others similar can occur in other conditions, so for an accurate diagnosis, the patient would need to visit their doctor.

Diagnosis

On examination, an inflamed or partially torn Achilles tendon is tender when squeezed between the fingers. Complete tears are differentiated by sudden, severe pain and inability to walk on the extremity. A palpable defect along the course of the tendon. A positive Thompson test (while the patient lies prone on the examination table, the examiner squeezes the calf muscle; this maneuver by the examiner does not cause the normally expected plantar flexion of the foot).

Nonsurgical Treatment

Nonsurgical methods include rest and stop doing activities that cause stress to the tendon. Ice the area by applying ice to the tendon for 15 minutes after exercising. Compress the tendon by using an athletic wrap or surgical tape. Elevate your injury. You can reduce swelling by lying down and raising your foot at a level that is above your heart. Stretch your ankles and calf muscles. Take anti-inflammatory medication (e.g.: ibuprofen to reduce swelling). Wear orthotics and running shoes. Take part in physical therapy.

Achilles Tendonitis

Surgical Treatment

Surgery for an acute Achilles tendon tear is seemingly straightforward. The ends of the torn tendon are surgically exposed and sutures are used to tie the ends together. The sutures used to tie together the torn tendon ends are thick and strong, and are woven into the Achilles both above and below the tear. While the concepts of surgery are straightforward, the execution is more complex. Care must be taken to ensure the tendon is repaired with the proper tension -- not too tight or too loose. The skin must be taken care of, as excessive handling of the soft tissues can cause severe problems including infection and skin necrosis. Nerves are located just adjacent to the tendon, and must be protected to prevent nerve injury. If surgery is decided upon, it is usually performed within days or weeks of the injury. The idea is to perform the repair before scar tissue has formed, which would make the repair more difficult. Some surgeons may recommend delaying surgery a few days from the initial injury to allow swelling to subside before proceeding with the repair.

Prevention

As with all injuries, prevention is your best defense especially with injuries that are as painful and inconvenient as Achilles tendonitis. Options for how to prevent Achilles tendonitis include, stretching- Stretching properly, starting slowly, and increasing gradually will be critical if you want to avoid Achilles tendonitis. To help maintain flexibility in the ankle joint, begin each day with a series of stretches and be certain to stretch prior to, and after, any exercise or excessive physical activity. Orthotics and Heel Support- Bio-mechanically engineered inserts and heel cups can be placed in your shoes to correct misalignments or bolster the support of your foot and are available without a prescription. The temporary heel padding that these provide reduces the length that the Achilles tendon stretches each time you step, making it more comfortable to go about your daily routine. Proper Footwear- Low-heeled shoes with good arch support and shock absorption are best for the health of your foot. Look into heel wedges and other shoe inserts to make sure that your everyday foot mechanics are operating under ideal conditions.