Achilles tendinitis is one of the more common causes of heel pain and many people describe it as pain in the back of the heel. Since this condition is a form of tendinitis, patients mostly notice that the back of their heel is inflamed. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in your body. It is also one of the most important and most used parts of the body. It is essential for walking, running, jumping or even just an extension of the foot. It is for this reason that Achilles tendinitis can affect anyone who is constantly putting stress on his or her foot. Athletes are particularly at risk.
Tendinitis most often occurs when a tendon is over used. As the foot extends the Achilles tendon engages the calf muscles. The calf muscle generates force, which is transferred to the foot via this tendon. As this action repeats the tendon will endure large amounts of stress. An under-trained or inexperienced athlete is most likely to be affected by tendinitis since their body is not accustomed to the stress involved with athletics. Improper foot mechanics is another common cause of Achilles tendinitis. A properly functioning foot will distribute weight evenly across the foot. On the contrary, if the foot is experiencing improper mechanics, the weight of the body will not be evenly distributed. This can result in tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, calluses, bunions, neuromas and much more.
Paratenonitis presents in younger people. Symptoms start gradually and spontaneously. Aching and burning pain is noted especially with morning activity. It may improve slightly with initial activity, but becomes worse with further activity. It is aggravated by exercise. Over time less exercise is required to cause the pain. The Achilles tendon is often enlarged, warm and tender approximately 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Sometimes friction is noted with gentle palpation of the tendon during ankle motion. Tendinosis presents similarly but typically in middle-aged people. If severe pain and limited walking ability are present, it may indicate a partial tear of the tendon.
X-rays are usually normal in patients with Achilles tendonitis, but are performed to evaluate for other possible conditions. Occasionally, an MRI is needed to evaluate a patient for tears within the tendon. If there is a thought of surgical treatment an MRI may be helpful for preoperative evaluation and planning.
Most cases of Achilles tendonitis can be treated at home. Here’s what to do. Stop doing the activity that led to the injury. Avoid putting stress on your legs and feet, and give your tendon plenty of time to fully recover. Use the RICE formula. Don’t exercise for a few days, or try an exercise that doesn’t stress your feet, such as swimming. If necessary, your doctor may recommend that you use crutches or wear a walking boot to keep weight off your foot. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or a cold compress to your tendon for 15 minutes or more after you exercise or if you feel pain in the tendon. Use tape or an athletic wrap to keep swelling down and help support and immobilize the tendon. Lie down and raise your foot above the level of your heart, and if possible, try to sleep with your foot elevated. This will help keep the swelling to a minimum. Take anti-inflammatory medications. Pain relievers like ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce swelling in the affected area. Stretch and exercise your ankles and calf muscles while you recover. Keeping your muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong and flexible will aid in your recovery and help you keep from reinjuring your Achilles tendon. A doctor or a physical therapist can help you come up with a good exercise program. Try a pair of prescription orthotic inserts for your shoes if your doctor thinks it will help. Sometimes orthotics can be helpful. Talk to your doctor or someone trained in fitting orthotics to find out if they might work for you. Achilles tendon surgery is rarely needed. It’s usually only done if the tendon breaks, and then only as a last resort after other methods of therapy have been tried. Most cases of Achilles tendonitis will get better on their own with rest and minor treatment.
Surgery for an acute Achilles tendon tear is seemingly straightforward. The ends of the torn tendon are surgically exposed and sutures are used to tie the ends together. The sutures used to tie together the torn tendon ends are thick and strong, and are woven into the Achilles both above and below the tear. While the concepts of surgery are straightforward, the execution is more complex. Care must be taken to ensure the tendon is repaired with the proper tension — not too tight or too loose. The skin must be taken care of, as excessive handling of the soft tissues can cause severe problems including infection and skin necrosis. Nerves are located just adjacent to the tendon, and must be protected to prevent nerve injury. If surgery is decided upon, it is usually performed within days or weeks of the injury. The idea is to perform the repair before scar tissue has formed, which would make the repair more difficult. Some surgeons may recommend delaying surgery a few days from the initial injury to allow swelling to subside before proceeding with the repair.
Maintaining strength and flexibility in the muscles of the calf will help reduce the risk of tendinitis. Overusing a weak or tight Achilles tendon makes you more likely to develop tendinitis.