Living With Achilles Tendonitis

Overview

Achilles TendonThe 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 tendinitis may be caused by intensive hill running, sprinting, or stair climbing. Overuse resulting from the natural lack of flexibility in the calf muscles. Rapidly increasing intensity of exercise, especially after a period of inactivity. Sudden and hard contraction of the calf muscles when exerting extra effort, like that in a final sprint or high jump.

Symptoms

The pain associated with Achilles tendinitis typically begins as a mild ache in the back of the leg or above the heel after running or other sports activity. Episodes of more severe pain may occur after prolonged running, stair climbing or sprinting. You might also experience tenderness or stiffness, especially in the morning, which usually improves with mild activity. If you experience persistent pain around the Achilles tendon, call your doctor. Seek immediate medical attention if the pain or disability is severe. You may have a torn (ruptured) Achilles tendon.

Diagnosis

A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose an Achilles injury such as Achilles tendonitis. Occasionally, further investigations such as an Ultrasound, X-ray or MRI scan may be required to assist with diagnosis and assess the severity of the condition.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Your podiatrist may recommend one or more of these treatments to manage your pain. A bandage specifically designed to restrict motion of the tendon. Over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen). Custom orthotic shoe inserts to relieve stress on the tendon. Rest. Switching to a low impact exercise such as swimming, that does not stress the tendon. Stretching, massage, ultrasound and appropriate exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the achilles tendon. In extreme cases, surgery is necessary to remove the damaged tissue and repair any tears.

Achilles Tendonitis

Surgical Treatment

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.

Prevention

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.

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