Typically an overuse injury, Achilles tendinitis affects the connective tissue between the calf and the heel. When you walk, run or otherwise use your leg to push your body upward, the Achilles tendon is engaged. Using the tendon frequently and with high intensity often results in tendinitis -- a swollen Achilles tendon that makes it difficult and sometimes painful to continue high-impact activities.
Possible factors leading to the development of Achilles tendonitis include the following. Implementing a new exercise regiment such as running uphill or climbing stairs. Change in exercise routine, boosting intensity or increasing duration. Shoes worn during exercise lack support, either because the soles are worn out or poor shoe design. Omitting proper warm-up prior to strenuous exercise. Running on a hard or uneven surface. Deformation in foot such as a flat arch, or any anatomic variation that puts unnecessary strain on the Achilles tendon.
The main symptom of Achilles tendonitis is a feeling of pain and swelling in your heel as you walk or run. Other symptoms include tight calf muscles and limited range of motion when flexing the foot. This condition can also make the skin in your heel feel overly warm to the touch.
When diagnosing Achilles tendinitis, a doctor will ask the patient a few questions about their symptoms and then perform a physical examination. To perform a physical exam on the Achilles tendon, the doctor will lightly touch around the back of the ankle and tendon to locate the source of the pain or inflammation. They will also test the foot and ankle to see if their range of motion and flexibility has been impaired. The doctor might also order an imaging test to be done on the tendon. This will aid in the elimination of other possible causes of pain and swelling, and may help the doctor assess the level of damage (if any) that has been done to the tendon. Types of imaging tests that could be used for diagnosing Achilles tendinitis are MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging), X-ray, Ultrasound.
Wear shoes with a low half-inch to one-inch heel that are somewhat flexible through the ball of the foot. Avoid flat footwear such as slippers or sandals and stiff shoes. Add a heel lift in your shoe. You may also use arch support inserts or orthotic insoles. Heel lifts and orthotics can be purchased at many of our pharmacies and Podiatry departments. Avoid standing or walking barefoot. Perform calf-stretching exercises for 30 to 60 seconds on each leg at least 2 times a day. Stand an arm?s length away from a wall, facing the wall. Lean into the wall, stepping forward with one leg, leaving the other stretched behind you. The leg behind you is the one being stretched. Keep this leg straight (locked) and the toes pointed straight at the wall. Stretch forward until you feel tightness in the calf of your back leg. Hold this position without bouncing for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat for the opposite leg. Do stair exercises every day. Stand facing the stairs with the ball of your foot on a stair and your heel hanging off. Balance on one foot at a time while holding onto the rail. Slowly lower your heel as low as it will drop down and then slowly raise it up as high as you can lift it. Repeat this exercise slowly several times on each foot. Perform this exercise every other day, gradually increasing the number of repetitions over time as tolerated. If you are overweight, talk to your personal physician about resources that can help you lose weight. Carrying excess weight places additional pressure on your feet. Decrease the time that you stand, walk, or engage in exercises that put a load on your feet. Switch to a nonimpact form of exercise until your tendon heals, such as swimming, pool running, and using an elliptical trainer.
Surgery should be considered to relieve Achilles tendinitis only if the pain does not improve after 6 months of nonsurgical treatment. The specific type of surgery depends on the location of the tendinitis and the amount of damage to the tendon. Gastrocnemius recession. This is a surgical lengthening of the calf (gastrocnemius) muscles. Because tight calf muscles place increased stress on the Achilles tendon, this procedure is useful for patients who still have difficulty flexing their feet, despite consistent stretching. In gastrocnemius recession, one of the two muscles that make up the calf is lengthened to increase the motion of the ankle. The procedure can be performed with a traditional, open incision or with a smaller incision and an endoscope-an instrument that contains a small camera. Your doctor will discuss the procedure that best meets your needs. Complication rates for gastrocnemius recession are low, but can include nerve damage. Gastrocnemius recession can be performed with or without d?bridement, which is removal of damaged tissue. D?bridement and repair (tendon has less than 50% damage). The goal of this operation is to remove the damaged part of the Achilles tendon. Once the unhealthy portion of the tendon has been removed, the remaining tendon is repaired with sutures, or stitches to complete the repair. In insertional tendinitis, the bone spur is also removed. Repair of the tendon in these instances may require the use of metal or plastic anchors to help hold the Achilles tendon to the heel bone, where it attaches. After d?bridement and repair, most patients are allowed to walk in a removable boot or cast within 2 weeks, although this period depends upon the amount of damage to the tendon. D?bridement with tendon transfer (tendon has greater than 50% damage). In cases where more than 50% of the Achilles tendon is not healthy and requires removal, the remaining portion of the tendon is not strong enough to function alone. To prevent the remaining tendon from rupturing with activity, an Achilles tendon transfer is performed. The tendon that helps the big toe point down is moved to the heel bone to add strength to the damaged tendon. Although this sounds severe, the big toe will still be able to move, and most patients will not notice a change in the way they walk or run. Depending on the extent of damage to the tendon, some patients may not be able to return to competitive sports or running. Recovery. Most patients have good results from surgery. The main factor in surgical recovery is the amount of damage to the tendon. The greater the amount of tendon involved, the longer the recovery period, and the less likely a patient will be able to return to sports activity. Physical therapy is an important part of recovery. Many patients require 12 months of rehabilitation before they are pain-free.
As with all injuries, prevention is your best defense especially with injuries that are as painful and inconvenient as Achilles tendonitis. Options for how to prevent Achilles tendonitis include, stretching- Stretching properly, starting slowly, and increasing gradually will be critical if you want to avoid Achilles tendonitis. To help maintain flexibility in the ankle joint, begin each day with a series of stretches and be certain to stretch prior to, and after, any exercise or excessive physical activity. Orthotics and Heel Support- Bio-mechanically engineered inserts and heel cups can be placed in your shoes to correct misalignments or bolster the support of your foot and are available without a prescription. The temporary heel padding that these provide reduces the length that the Achilles tendon stretches each time you step, making it more comfortable to go about your daily routine. Proper Footwear- Low-heeled shoes with good arch support and shock absorption are best for the health of your foot. Look into heel wedges and other shoe inserts to make sure that your everyday foot mechanics are operating under ideal conditions.