Do you experience dull pain near the back of your heel or in the back of your leg after your regular run or after playing your favourite sport? When you ramp up your exercise is the pain more severe or prolonged? If so, you may have Achilles tendinitis. The Achilles tendon is the thick, strong, springy band of tissue that connects the muscles from the middle of your calf to your heel bone. You use your Achilles tendon when you walk, run or jump. Achilles tendinitis occurs when the Achilles tendon is repeatedly strained. The Achilles tendon becomes less flexible, weaker and more prone to injury as we age. Middle-aged weekend warriors and runners who suddenly intensify their training often suffer from Achilles tendinitis.
The calf is under a lot of strain when running: it is not only put on stretch during landing of the foot, but it also has to produce the tension needed to support body weight and absorb the shock of landing. This is what is called an ?eccentric load?. Excessive eccentric loading – either by way of a dramatic increase in mileage, or excessive hill running, or faulty running posture – could very well be the cause of a runner?s achilles tendinitis. The calf strain translates downward into the achilles tendon where it attaches to the heel, and inflammation ensues. Inflammation then causes scarring and fibrosis of tissues, which in turn inflicts pain upon stretching or use. Risk factors for Achilles tendinitis also include spending prolonged amounts of time standing or walking.
The primary symptom of Achilles tendon inflammation is pain in the back of the heel, which initially increases when exercise is begun and often lessens as exercise continues. A complete tear of the Achilles tendon typically occurs with a sudden forceful change in direction when running or playing tennis and is often accompanied by a sensation of having been struck in the back of the ankle and calf with an object such as a baseball bat.
The doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor will look for tenderness along the tendon and pain in the area of the tendon when you stand on your toes. X-rays can help diagnose bone problems. An MRI scan may be done if your doctor is thinking about surgery or is worried about the tear in the Achilles tendon.
NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor’s order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Steroid injections. Steroids decrease pain and swelling. After you get this shot, you may feel like your Achilles tendon is healed. Do not return to your regular exercise until your caregiver says it is okay. You could make the tendinitis worse, or even tear the tendon. Surgery. If your tendinitis does not heal with other treatments, you may need surgery. Surgery may be done to repair a tear in the tendon, or to remove parts of the tendon. The most important way to manage Achilles tendinitis is to rest. Rest decreases swelling and keeps your tendinitis from getting worse. You may feel pain when you begin to run or exercise. The pain usually goes away as your muscles warm up, but it may come back. Your caregiver may tell you to stop your usual training or exercise activities. He may give you other exercises to do until your Achilles tendon heals. Ice decreases swelling and pain. Put ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Put this on your Achilles tendon for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day. Do this for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away. After 2 or 3 days, you may use heat to decrease pain and stiffness. Use a hot water bottle, heating pad, whirlpool, or warm compress. To make a compress, soak a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring out the extra water and put it on your Achilles tendon 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day. Stretching and making the muscles stronger may help decrease stress on your Achilles tendon. Physical therapists can teach you exercises and treatments to help your tendinitis heal faster. You may need to wear inserts in your shoes. You may need to wrap tape around your heel and back of the leg. You may need to wear a cast, brace, or support boot.
Many people don’t realize that Achilles tendon surgery can be very traumatic to your body. The type of trauma you experience after surgery can be compared to what you go through when you first injured your Achilles tendon. During the first 24 to 72 hours after the surgery your ankle will be tender, swollen and very painful. Your leg will be weak and unstable making it impossible for you to put weight on your leg without some kind of help. This is why your doctor or surgeon will have you outfitted for a cast, ankle brace and/or crutches before the procedure. When you are relying on a cast/brace and crutches your Achilles tendon is less likely to be as active as it once was. This is usually why atrophy (loss) of your lower leg muscles (specifically your calf muscle) happens. In general, more than 80%* of people who undergo surgery for an injured Achilles Tendon are able to return to their active lifestyle. In order to avoid re-injury, it is important to commit to a regular conservative therapy routine.
Achilles tendinitis cannot always be prevented but the following tips will help you reduce your risk. If you are new to a sport, gradually ramp up your activity level to your desired intensity and duration. If you experience pain while exercising, stop. Avoid strenuous activity that puts excessive stress on your Achilles tendon. If you have a demanding workout planned, warm up slowly and thoroughly. Always exercise in shoes that are in good condition and appropriate for your activity or sport. Be sure to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon before and after working out. If you suffer from Achilles tendinitis make sure you treat it properly and promptly. If self-care techniques don?t work, don?t delay. Book a consultation with a foot care expert or you may find yourself sidelined from your favourite sports and activities.