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 two most common causes of Achilles tendonitis are Lack of flexibility and Overpronation. Other factors associated with Achilles tendonitis are recent changes in footwear, and changes in exercise training schedules. Often long distance runners will have symptoms of Achilles tendonitis after increasing their mileage or increasing the amount of hill training they are doing. As people age, tendons, like other tissues in the body, become less flexible, more rigid, and more susceptible to injury. Therefore, middle-age recreational athletes are most susceptible to Achilles tendonitis.
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.
To confirm the diagnosis and consider what might be causing the problem, it?s important to see your doctor or a physiotherapist. Methods used to make a diagnosis may include, medical history, including your exercise habits and footwear, physical examination, especially examining for thickness and tenderness of the Achilles tendon, tests that may include an x-ray of the foot, ultrasound and occasionally blood tests (to test for an inflammatory condition), and an MRI scan of the tendon.
Initial treatment consists of medication and ice to relieve the pain, stretching and strengthening exercises, and modification of the activity that initially caused the problem. These all can be carried out at home, although referral to a physical therapist or athletic trainer for further evaluation and treatment may be helpful. Occasionally a walking boot or cast may be recommended to immobilize the tendon, allowing the inflammation to settle down. For less severe cases or after immobilization, a heel lift may be prescribed to reduce stress to the tendon. This may be followed by an elastic bandage wrap of the ankle and Achilles tendon. Orthotics (arch supports) may be prescribed or recommended by your physician. Surgery to remove the inflamed tendon lining or degenerated tendon tissue is rarely necessary and has shown less than predictable results.
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.
Do strengthening and stretching exercises to keep calf muscles strong and flexible. Keep your hamstring muscles flexible by stretching. Warm up and stretch adequately before participating in any sports. Always increase the intensity and duration of training gradually. Do not continue an exercise if you experience pain over the tendon. Wear properly fitted running and other sports shoes, including properly fitted arch supports if your feet roll inwards excessively (over-pronate).