Achilles Tendonitis Facts

Overview

Achilles TendonitisThe Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. Tendons are long, tough cords of tissue that connect muscle to bone. The Achilles tendon is located in the back of the foot and connects your heel bone to your calf muscle. It helps you to walk, run and jump. The Achilles tendon is able to endure stress, but sometimes injury can occur to the tendon when overly stressed. Overuse of the Achilles tendon may cause the tendon to swell, become irritated, inflamed and cause pain. This is Achilles tendinitis. It is a common sports injury related to running, but can happen to anyone who puts a lot of stress on their feet (e.g.: basketball players and dancers). If you do not get treatment for Achilles tendinitis, the problem can become chronic and make it difficult for you to walk.

Causes

Over-pronation, injury and overstresses of the tendon are some of the most common causes. Risk factors include tight heel cords, poor foot alignment, and recent changes in activities or shoes. During a normal gait cycle, the upper and lower leg rotate in unison (i.e. internally during pronation and externally during supination). However, when a person over-pronates, the lower leg is locked into the foot and therefore continues to rotate internally past the end of the contact phase while the femur begins to rotate externally at the beginning of midstance. The Gastrocnemius muscle is attached to the upper leg and rotates externally while the Soleus muscle is attached to the lower leg and rotates internally during pronation. The resulting counter rotation of the upper and lower leg causes a shearing force to occur in the Achilles tendon. This counter rotation twists the tendon at its weakest area, namely the Achilles tendon itself, and causes the inflammation. Since the tendon is avascular, once inflammation sets in, it tends to be chronic.

Symptoms

The pain associated with Achilles tendonitis can come on gradually or be caused by some type of leg or foot trauma. The pain can be a shooting, burning, or a dull ache. You can experience the pain at either the insertion point on the back of the heel or upwards on the Achilles tendon within a few inches. Swelling is also common along the area with the pain. The onset of discomfort at the insertion can cause a bump to occur called a Haglund's deformities or Pump bump. This can be inflammation in the bursa sac that surrounds the insertion of the Achilles tendon, scar tissue from continuous tares of the tendon, or even some calcium buildup. In this situation the wearing of closed back shoes could irritate the bump. In the event of a rupture, which is rare, the foot will not be able to go through the final stage of push off causing instability. Finally, you may experience discomfort, even cramping in the calf muscle.

Diagnosis

Physicians usually pinch your Achilles tendon with their fingers to test for swelling and pain. If the tendon itself is inflamed, your physician may be able to feel warmth and swelling around the tissue, or, in chronic cases, lumps of scar tissue. You will probably be asked to walk around the exam room so your physician can examine your stride. To check for complete rupture of the tendon, your physician may perform the Thompson test. Your physician squeezes your calf; if your Achilles is not torn, the foot will point downward. If your Achilles is torn, the foot will remain in the same position. Should your physician require a closer look, these imaging tests may be performed. X-rays taken from different angles may be used to rule out other problems, such as ankle fractures. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic waves to create pictures of your ankle that let physicians more clearly look at the tendons surrounding your ankle joint.

Nonsurgical Treatment

There are a variety of treatments for Achilles tendonitis. These range from rest and aspirin to steroid injections and surgery. Your doctor might suggest, reducing your physical activity, stretching and strengthening the calf muscles, switching to a different, less strenuous sport, icing the area after exercise or when in pain, raising your foot to decrease swelling, wearing a brace or compressive elastic bandage to prevent heel movement, undergoing physical therapy, taking anti-inflammatory medication (e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen) for a limited time, getting steroid injections, Sometimes more conservative treatments are not effective. In these cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the Achilles tendon. If the condition intensifies and is left untreated, there?s a greater risk of an Achilles rupture. This can cause sharp pain in the heel area.

Achilles Tendon

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

Suggestions to reduce your risk of Achilles tendonitis include, icorporate stretching into your warm-up and cool-down routines. Maintaining an adequate level of fitness for your sport. Avoid dramatic increases in sports training. If you experience pain in your Achilles tendon, rest the area. Trying to ?work through? the pain will only make your injury worse. Wear good quality supportive shoes appropriate to your sport. If there is foot deformity or flattening, obtain orthoses. Avoid wearing high heels on a regular basis. Maintaining your foot in a ?tiptoe? position shortens your calf muscles and reduces the flexibility of your Achilles tendon. An inflexible Achilles tendon is more susceptible to injury. Maintain a normal healthy weight.

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