Coping With Achilles Tendon Pain

Overview

Achilles TendonAchilles Tendinitis is a common overuse injury which results in inflammation of the achilles tendon, most frequently causing mild to severe heel pain. The achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, connecting your calf muscle to your heel bone. It?s used with every step - when you walk, run, and jump. Although the Achilles tendon can withstand great stresses, it?s also prone to tendinitis. The condition is very common in athletes, especially runners who?ve suddenly increased the intensity or duration of their workouts. It?s also common in middle-aged, ?weekend athletes? who play sports like tennis or basketball only occasionally. The pain from achilles tendinitis may be felt anywhere from the back of the leg to the top of the heel. Most cases are mild and can be treated at home under a podiatrist?s supervision. Severe cases of Achilles tendinitis can lead to tendon tears (ruptures) that may require surgical repair.

Causes

Excessive exercise is a common cause of Achilles tendonitis. This is particularly true for athletes. However, factors unrelated to exercise may also contribute to risk. Rheumatoid arthritis and infection are both correlated with tendonitis. In general, any repeated activity that strains the Achilles tendon can contribute to this problem. Here are a few possible causes, jumping into an exercise routine without a proper warm-up, straining calf muscles during repeated exercise or physical activity, playing sports such as tennis that require quick stops and changes of direction, wearing old or ill-fitting shoes, wearing high heels every day.

Symptoms

Most cases of Achilles tendonitis start out slowly, with very little pain, and then grow worse over time. Some of the more common symptoms include mild pain or an ache above the heel and in the lower leg, especially after running or doing other physical activities, pain that gets worse when walking uphill, climbing stairs, or taking part in intense or prolonged exercise, stiffness and tenderness in the heel, especially in the morning, that gradually goes away, swelling or hard knots of tissue in the Achilles tendon, a creaking or crackling sound when moving the ankle or pressing on the Achilles tendon, weakness in the affected leg.

Diagnosis

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.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Initial treatment of mild Achilles tendinitis involves rest, stretching exercises, and non-prescriptive medications to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. These medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Relief of pain and swelling may be achieved with the application of ice for15 minutes at a time. Sleeping with the affected foot propped up on a pillow may also relieve swelling. Adequate time must be given to rest and recovery, meaning months or weeks, to prevent re-injury of the Achilles tendon. Most people make a full recovery and are able to return to their regular sports and exercise programs.

Achilles Tendonitis

Surgical Treatment

Your doctor may recommend surgery if, after around six months, other treatments haven?t worked and your symptoms are having an impact on your day-to-day life. Surgery involves removing damaged areas of your tendon and repairing them.

Prevention

While it may not be possible to prevent Achilles tendinitis, you can take measures to reduce your risk. Increase your activity level gradually. If you're just beginning an exercise regimen, start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the training. Take it easy. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your tendons, such as hill running. If you participate in a strenuous activity, warm up first by exercising at a slower pace. If you notice pain during a particular exercise, stop and rest. Choose your shoes carefully. The shoes you wear while exercising should provide adequate cushioning for your heel and should have a firm arch support to help reduce the tension in the Achilles tendon. Replace your worn-out shoes. If your shoes are in good condition but don't support your feet, try arch supports in both shoes. Stretch daily. Take the time to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon in the morning, before exercise and after exercise to maintain flexibility. This is especially important to avoid a recurrence of Achilles tendinitis. Strengthen your calf muscles. Strong calf muscles enable the calf and Achilles tendon to better handle the stresses they encounter with activity and exercise. Cross-train. Alternate high-impact activities, such as running and jumping, with low-impact activities, such as cycling and swimming.

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