Achilles Tendonitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendonitisAchilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon. This inflammation is typically short-lived. Over time, if not resolved, the condition may progress to a degeneration of the tendon (Achilles tendonosis), in which the tendon loses its organized structure and is likely to develop microscopic tears. Sometimes the degeneration involves the site where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone. In rare cases, chronic degeneration with or without pain may result in rupture of the tendon.




Causes

Achilles tendinitis can be caused by overly tight calf muscles, excessive running up hill or down hill, a sudden increase in the amount of exercise, e.g. running for a longer distance, wearing ill-fitting running shoes, such as those with soles that are too stiff, or wearing high heels regularly, or changing between high heels all day and flat shoes or low running shoes in the evening. Overuse is common in walkers, runners, dancers and other athletes who do a lot of jumping and sudden starts/stops, which exert a lot of stress on the Achilles tendon. Continuing to stress an inflamed Achilles tendon can cause rupture of the tendon - it snaps, often with a distinctive popping sound. A ruptured Achilles tendon makes it virtually impossible to walk. An Achilles tendon rupture is usually treated by surgical repair or wearing a cast.




Symptoms

Patients with this condition typically experience pain in the region of the heel and back of the ankle. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the Achilles region that increases with rest (typically at night or first thing in the morning) following activities which place stress on the Achilles tendon. These activities typically include walking or running excessively (especially uphill or on uneven surfaces), jumping, hopping, performing heel raises or performing calf stretches. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Patients with Achilles tendonitis may also experience swelling, tenderness on firmly touching the Achilles tendon, weakness and sometimes palpable thickening of the affected Achilles tendon when compared with the unaffected side.




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

Treatment for Achilles tendonitis, depends on the severity of the injury. If heel pain, tenderness, swelling, or discomfort in the back of the lower leg occurs, physical activity that produces the symptoms should be discontinued. If the problem returns or persists, a medical professional should be consulted. If pain develops even with proper stretching and training techniques, the patient should consult a podiatrist to check for hyperpronation and adequate arch support. The addition of an orthotic may be enough to maintain good arch and foot alignment and eliminate pain. If damage to the tendon is minor, the injury may respond to a simple course of treatment known as RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Patients are advised to rest the tendon by keeping off their feet as much as possible, apply ice packs for 20 minutes at a time every hour for a day or two to reduce swelling, compress the ankle and foot with a firmly (not tightly) wrapped elastic bandage and elevate the foot whenever possible to minimize swelling. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen may be used to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation.

Achilles Tendon




Surgical Treatment

If non-surgical approaches fail to restore the tendon to its normal condition, surgery may be necessary. The foot and ankle surgeon will select the best procedure to repair the tendon, based upon the extent of the injury, the patient?s age and activity level, and other factors.




Prevention

The following measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis. Adequately stretch and warm up prior to exercise. Warm down and stretch after exercise. Choose footwear carefully and use footwear appropriate to the sport being undertaken. Use orthotic devices in footwear to correctly support the foot. Exercise within fitness levels and follow a sensible exercise programme. Develop strong, flexible calf muscles.

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