The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel and is active during almost all activities including walking, jumping, and swimming. This dense tendon can withstand large forces, but can become inflamed and painful during periods of overuse. Pain results from inflammation (tendonitis) or a degenerating tendon (tendinosis). Achilles tendon pathologies include rupture and tendonitis. Many experts now believe, however, that tendonitis is a misleading term that should no longer be used, because signs of true inflammation are almost never present on histologic examination. Instead, the following histopathologically determined nomenclature has evolved. Paratenonitis: Characterized by paratenon inflammation and thickening, as well as fibrin adhesions. Tendinosis: Characterized by intrasubstance disarray and degeneration of the tendon.
Poorly conditioned athletes are at the highest risk for developing Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis. Participating in activities that involve sudden stops and starts and repetitive jumping (e.g., basketball, tennis, dancing) increases the risk for the condition. It often develops following sudden changes in activity level, training on poor surfaces, or wearing inappropriate footwear. Achilles tendonitis may be caused by a single incident of overstressing the tendon, or it may result from a series of stresses that produce small tears over time (overuse). Patients who develop arthritis in the heel have an increased risk for developing Achilles tendonitis. This occurs more often in people who middle aged and older. The condition also may develop in people who exercise infrequently and in those who are just beginning an exercise program, because inactive muscles and tendons have little flexibility because of inactivity. It is important for people who are just starting to exercise to stretch properly, start slowly, and increase gradually. In some cases, a congenital (i.e., present at birth) condition causes Achilles tendonitis. Typically, this is due to abnormal rotation of the foot and leg (pronation), which causes the arch of the foot to flatten and the leg to twist more than normal.
Achilles tendonitis may be felt as a burning pain at the beginning of activity, which gets less during activity and then worsens following activity. The tendon may feel stiff first thing in the morning or at the beginning of exercise. Achilles tendonitis usually causes pain, stiffness, and loss of strength in the affected area. The pain may get worse when you use your Achilles tendon. You may have more pain and stiffness during the night or when you get up in the morning. The area may be tender, red, warm, or swollen if there is inflammation. You may notice a crunchy sound or feeling when you use the tendon.
If you think you have Achilles tendinitis, make an appointment to see your doctor. The doctor will ask you questions about your recent activity and look for signs. The foot not flexing when the calf muscle is pressed ( if Achilles ruptures or tears in half). Swelling on the back of the foot. Pain in the back of the foot. Limited range of motion in ankle. An X-ray or MRI scan can check for tendinitis.
There is insufficient evidence from randomised controlled trials to determine which method of treatment is the most appropriate for the treatment of acute or chronic Achilles tendonitis. The patient should abstain from aggravating activities, but with a minimum of rest in order to preserve overall fitness. Possible treatments are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ice, rest, increased warm-up/stretching exercises, physiotherapy and heel lifts (orthotic devices – used on both sides to prevent a gait imbalance). Other treatments evaluated in a Cochrane review were heparin, steroid injections, glycosaminoglycan sulfate, Actovegin?, and topical laser treatment. There was no clear evidence of benefit from these. Casting is an option for resistant Achilles tendonitis. Drugs – analgesics and NSAIDs. Surgery is sometimes used for resistant Achilles tendonitis, but usually as a last resort. Other recently reported treatments include continuing sporting activity in conjunction with rehabilitation, low-energy shock wave therapy and topical glyceryl trinitrate .
Surgery is considered the last resort and is often performed by an orthopedic surgeon. It is only recommended if all other treatment options have failed after at least six months. In this situation, badly damaged portions of the tendon may be removed. If the tendon has ruptured, surgery is necessary to re-attach the tendon. Rehabilitation, including stretching and strength exercises, is started soon after the surgery. In most cases, normal activities can be resumed after about 10 weeks. Return to competitive sport for some people may be delayed for about three to six months.
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.