All About Achilles Tendinitis

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

Tight or fatigued calf muscles, which transfer the burden of running to the Achilles. This can be due to poor stretching, rapidly increasing distance, or over-training excessive hill running or speed work, both of which stress the Achilles more than other types of running. Inflexible running shoes, which, in some cases, may force the Achilles to twist. Runners who overpronate (feet rotate too far inward on impact) are most susceptible to Achilles tendinitis.

Symptoms

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.

Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor will gently press on the affected area to determine the location of pain, tenderness or swelling. He or she will also evaluate the flexibility, alignment, range of motion and reflexes of your foot and ankle. Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests to assess your condition, X-rays. While X-rays can't visualize soft tissues such as tendons, they may help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Ultrasound. This device uses sound waves to visualize soft tissues like tendons. Ultrasound can also produce real-time images of the Achilles tendon in motion. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and a very strong magnet, MRI machines can produce very detailed images of the Achilles tendon.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Ask your Pharmacist for advice. 1) Your Pharmacy stocks a range of cold packs which may be applied to the area to decrease inflammation. 2) Ask your Pharmacist about a temporary heel raise or pad which can be inserted into footwear to decrease the force absorbed by the tendon when the feet land heavily on the ground. 3) Gently massaging a heat-producing liniment into the calf can help to relieve tension in the muscle which may relieve the symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis. Ask your Pharmacist to recommend the most appropriate type. 4) Gels, sprays or creams which help to reduce inflammation are available and may be applied to the injured area. Ask your Pharmacist for advice. 5) Your Pharmacist can advise you on analgesic, anti-inflammatory medications such as Aspirin which may be of assistance. Aspirin should be avoided in children under the age of 12 and those aged 12 to 15 who have a fever. 6) Strapping the ankle can help restrict movement and minimise further injury. Your Pharmacist stocks a range of athletic strapping tape and ankle guards which may assist your injury.

Achilles Tendinitis

Surgical Treatment

Surgery usually isn't needed to treat Achilles tendinopathy. But in rare cases, someone might consider surgery when rubbing between the tendon and the tissue covering the tendon (tendon sheath) causes the sheath to become thick and fibrous. Surgery can be done to remove the fibrous tissue and repair any small tendon tears. This may also help prevent an Achilles tendon rupture.

Prevention

Your podiatrist will work with you to decrease your chances of re-developing tendinitis. He or she may create custom orthotics to help control the motion of your feet. He or she may also recommend certain stretches or exercises to increase the tendon's elasticity and strengthen the muscles attached to the tendon. Gradually increasing your activity level with an appropriate training schedule-building up to a 5K run, for instance, instead of simply tackling the whole course the first day-can also help prevent tendinitis.

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