The Achilles tendon camera.gif connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. It lets you rise up on your toes and push off when you walk or run. The two main problems are, Achilles tendinopathy. This includes one of two conditions, Tendinitis. This actually means “inflammation of the tendon.” But inflammation is rarely the cause of tendon pain. Tendinosis. This refers to tiny tears (microtears) in the tissue in and around the tendon. These tears are caused by overuse. In most cases, Achilles tendon pain is the result of tendinosis, not tendinitis. Some experts now use the term tendinopathy to include both inflammation and microtears. But many doctors may still use the term tendinitis to describe a tendon injury. Problems with the Achilles tendon may seem to happen suddenly. But usually they are the result of many tiny tears in the tendon that have happened over time. Achilles tendinopathy is likely to occur in men older than 30. Most Achilles tendon ruptures occur in people 30 to 50 years old who are recreational athletes (“weekend warriors”). Ruptures can also happen in older adults.
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.
Patients with an Achilles tendon rupture frequently present with complaints of a sudden snap in the lower calf associated with acute, severe pain. The patient reports feeling like he or she has been shot, kicked, or cut in the back of the leg, which may result in an inability to ambulate further. A patient with Achilles tendon rupture will be unable to stand on his or her toes on the affected side. Tendinosis is often pain free. Typically, the only sign of the condition may be a palpable intratendinous nodule that accompanies the tendon as the ankle is placed through its range of motion (ROM). Patients with paratenonitis typically present with warmth, swelling, and diffuse tenderness localized 2-6 cm proximal to the tendon’s insertion. Paratenonitis with tendinosis. This is diagnosed in patients with activity-related pain, as well as swelling of the tendon sheath and tendon nodularity.
A podiatrist can usually make the diagnosis by clinical history and physical examination alone. Pain with touching or stretching the tendon is typical. There may also be a visible swelling to the tendon. The patient frequently has difficulty plantarflexing (pushing down the ball of the foot and toes, like one would press on a gas pedal), particularly against resistance. In most cases X-rays don’t show much, as they tend to show bone more than soft tissues. But X-rays may show associated degeneration of the heel bone that is common with Achilles Tendon problems. For example, heel spurs, calcification within the tendon, avulsion fractures, periostitis (a bruising of the outer covering of the bone) may all be seen on X-ray. In cases where we are uncertain as to the extent of the damage to the tendon, though, an MRI scan may be necessary, which images the soft tissues better than X-rays. When the tendon is simply inflamed and not severely damaged, the problem may or may not be visible on MRI. It depends upon the severity of the condition.
Wear shoes with a low half-inch to one-inch heel that are somewhat flexible through the ball of the foot. Avoid flat footwear such as slippers or sandals and stiff shoes. Add a heel lift in your shoe. You may also use arch support inserts or orthotic insoles. Heel lifts and orthotics can be purchased at many of our pharmacies and Podiatry departments. Avoid standing or walking barefoot. Perform calf-stretching exercises for 30 to 60 seconds on each leg at least 2 times a day. Stand an arm?s length away from a wall, facing the wall. Lean into the wall, stepping forward with one leg, leaving the other stretched behind you. The leg behind you is the one being stretched. Keep this leg straight (locked) and the toes pointed straight at the wall. Stretch forward until you feel tightness in the calf of your back leg. Hold this position without bouncing for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat for the opposite leg. Do stair exercises every day. Stand facing the stairs with the ball of your foot on a stair and your heel hanging off. Balance on one foot at a time while holding onto the rail. Slowly lower your heel as low as it will drop down and then slowly raise it up as high as you can lift it. Repeat this exercise slowly several times on each foot. Perform this exercise every other day, gradually increasing the number of repetitions over time as tolerated. If you are overweight, talk to your personal physician about resources that can help you lose weight. Carrying excess weight places additional pressure on your feet. Decrease the time that you stand, walk, or engage in exercises that put a load on your feet. Switch to a nonimpact form of exercise until your tendon heals, such as swimming, pool running, and using an elliptical trainer.
Chronic Achilles tendon tears can be more complicated to repair. A tendon that has torn and retracted (pulled back) into the leg will scar in the shortened position over time. Restoring normal tendon length is usually not an issue when surgery is performed within a few weeks of the injury. However, when there has been a delay of months or longer, the treatment can be more complicated. Several procedures can be used to add length to a chronic Achilles tear. A turndown procedure uses tissue folded down from the top of the calf to add length to the Achilles tendon. Tendon transfers from other tendons of the ankle can also be performed to help restore function of the Achilles. The results of surgery in a chronic situation are seldom as good as an acute repair. However, in some patients, these procedures can help restore function of a chronically damaged Achilles.
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.