The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Jumping, climbing and strenuous exercise can strain the tendon and calf muscle, which can cause the type of inflammation known as tendinitis. This injury can be mild enough that it can be treated by over-the-counter medications or so severe that it must be repaired surgically. Chronic tendinitis can cause microscopic tears in the muscle which can weaken the tendon and increase the risk for tear or rupture. Symptoms usually include pain and swelling near the ankle. Pain may lead to weakness in the area that increases with walking and running. Stiffness in the tendon may be worse in the morning.
Achilles tendinitis usually results from overuse and not a specific injury or trauma. When the body is subject to repetitive stress, the Achilles tendon is more prone to become inflamed. Other factors may cause Achilles tendinitis, such as, Sudden increase in physical activity, which can be related to distance, speed or hills, without giving yourself adequate time to adjust to the heightened activity. With running up hills, the Achilles tendon has to stretch more for each stride, which creates rapid fatigue. Inadequate footwear or training surface. High heels may cause a problem, because the Achilles tendon and calf muscles are shortened. While exercising in flat, athletic shoes, the tendon is then stretched beyond its normal range, putting abnormal strain on the tendon. Tight calf muscles which gives the foot a decreased range of motion. The strained calf muscles may also put extra strain on the Achilles tendon. Bone spur where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone, aggravating the tendon and causing pain.
Achilles tendonitis typically starts off as a dull stiffness in the tendon, which gradually goes away as the area gets warmed up. It may get worse with faster running, uphill running, or when wearing spikes and other low-heeled running shoes. If you continue to train on it, the tendon will hurt more sharply and more often, eventually impeding your ability even to jog lightly. About two-thirds of Achilles tendonitis cases occur at the ?midpoint? of the tendon, a few inches above the heel. The rest are mostly cases of ?insertional? Achilles tendonitis, which occurs within an inch or so of the heelbone. Insertional Achilles tendonitis tends to be more difficult to get rid of, often because the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac right behind the tendon, can become irritated as well.
If you think you might have Achilles tendonitis, check in with your doctor before it gets any worse. Your doc will ask about the activities you've been doing and will examine your leg, foot, ankle, and knee for range of motion. If your pain is more severe, the doctor may also make sure you haven't ruptured (torn) your Achilles tendon. To check this, the doc might have you lie face down and bend your knee while he or she presses on your calf muscles to see if your foot flexes. Any flexing of the foot means the tendon is at least partly intact. It's possible that the doctor might also order an X-ray or MRI scan of your foot and leg to check for fractures, partial tears of the tendon, or signs of a condition that might get worse. Foot and ankle pain also might be a sign of other overuse injuries that can cause foot and heel pain, like plantar fasciitis and Sever's disease. If you also have any problems like these, they also need to be treated.
Initial treatment consists of medication and ice to relieve the pain, stretching and strengthening exercises, and modification of the activity that initially caused the problem. These all can be carried out at home, although referral to a physical therapist or athletic trainer for further evaluation and treatment may be helpful. Occasionally a walking boot or cast may be recommended to immobilize the tendon, allowing the inflammation to settle down. For less severe cases or after immobilization, a heel lift may be prescribed to reduce stress to the tendon. This may be followed by an elastic bandage wrap of the ankle and Achilles tendon. Orthotics (arch supports) may be prescribed or recommended by your physician. Surgery to remove the inflamed tendon lining or degenerated tendon tissue is rarely necessary and has shown less than predictable results.
Occasionally, conservative management of Achilles tendon conditions fails. This failure is more common in older male patients and those with longstanding symptoms, those who persist in full training despite symptoms or those who have uncorrected predisposing factors. In these cases, surgery may be indicated. It should be remembered, however, that the rehabilitation program, particularly for severe Achilles tendon injuries, is a slow, lengthy program. Surgery is only indicated when there is failure to progress in the rehabilitation program. Surgery should not be considered unless at least six months of appropriate conservative management has failed to lead to improvement.
To prevent Achilles tendonitis or tendonosis from recurring after surgical or non-surgical treatment, the foot and ankle surgeon may recommend strengthening and stretching of the calf muscles through daily exercises. Wearing proper shoes for the foot type and activity is also important in preventing recurrence of the condition.