Achilles Tendinitis

Overview

Achilles TendonAchilles tendinitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the fibrous tissue that connects the heel to the calf muscles. This condition is often caused by irritation of the tendon and typically affects those who play sports. However, older individuals who suffer from arthritis may also be affected. Achilles tendinitis is typically the first stage of an Achilles tendon injury and should be treated right away. Without treatment, the tendon can tear or rupture, which may require surgery.




Causes

Unusual use or overuse of the lower leg muscles and Achilles tendon is usually the cause of Achilles tendinitis. Repetitive jumping, kicking, and sprinting can lead to Achilles tendinitis in both recreational and competitive athletes. Runners, dancers, and athletes over age 65 are especially at risk. Sudden increases in training or competition can also inflame your Achilles tendon. For example, adding hills, stair-climbing, or sprinting to your running workout puts extra stress on your Achilles tendon. Improper technique during training can also strain the tendon. Intense running or jumping without stretching and strengthening your lower leg muscles can put you at risk regardless of your age or fitness level. Running on tight, exhausted, or fatigued calf muscles can put added stress on your Achilles tendon, as your tendon may not be ready to quickly start a workout after a period of inactivity. Direct blows or other injuries to the ankle, foot, or lower leg may pull your Achilles tendon too far and stretch the tissue. A hard contraction of the calf muscles, such as can happen when you push for the final sprint in a race, can strain the tendon. People whose feet roll inward, a condition called overpronation, are particularly at risk. Sometimes, shoes with too much heel cushioning put extra strain on the Achilles tendon.




Symptoms

The onset of the symptoms of Achilles tendonitis tend to be gradual, with symptoms usually developing over a period of several days, or even weeks. Symptoms may include, Pain, this may be mild at first and may only be noticeable after exercise. Over time the pain may become constant and severe. Stiffness, this is usually relieved by activity. Sluggishness in the leg. Tenderness, particularly in the morning and most commonly felt just above where the tendon attaches to the heel bone. Swelling.




Diagnosis

The doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor will look for tenderness along the tendon and pain in the area of the tendon when you stand on your toes. X-rays can help diagnose bone problems. An MRI scan may be done if your doctor is thinking about surgery or is worried about the tear in the Achilles tendon.




Nonsurgical Treatment

The first thing to do is to cut back your training. If you are working out twice a day, change to once a day and take one or two days off per week. If you are working out every day cut back to every other day and decrease your mileage. Training modification is essential to treatment of this potentially long lasting problem. You should also cut back on hill work and speed work. Post running ice may also help. Be sure to avoid excessive stretching. The first phase of healing should be accompanied by relative rest, which doesn't necessarily mean stopping running, but as I am emphasizing, a cut back in training. If this does not help quickly, consider the use of a 1/4 inch heel lift can also help. Do not start worrying if you will become dependent on this, concentrate on getting rid of the pain. Don't walk barefoot around your house, avoid excessively flat shoes, such as "sneakers", tennis shoes, cross trainers, etc. In office treatment would initially consist of the use of the physical therapy modalities of electrical stimulation, (HVGS, high voltage galvanic stimulation), and ultrasound. Your sports medicine physician should also carefully check your shoes. A heel lift can also be used and control of excessive pronation by taping can also be incorporated into a program of achilles tendonitis rehabilitation therapy. Orthotics with a small heel lift are often helpful.

Achilles Tendonitis




Surgical Treatment

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.




Prevention

So what are some of the things you can do to help prevent Achilles Tendinitis? Warm Up properly: A good warm up is essential in getting the body ready for any activity. A well structured warm up will prepare your heart, lungs, muscles, joints and your mind for strenuous activity. Balancing Exercises, Any activity that challenges your ability to balance, and keep your balance, will help what's called proprioception, your body's ability to know where its limbs are at any given time. Plyometric Training, Plyometric drills include jumping, skipping, bounding, and hopping type activities. These explosive types of exercises help to condition and prepare the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the lower leg and ankle joint. Footwear, Be aware of the importance of good footwear. A good pair of shoes will help to keep your ankles stable, provide adequate cushioning, and support your foot and lower leg during the running or walking motion. Cool Down properly, Just as important as warming up, a proper cool down will not only help speed recovery, but gives your body time to make the transition from exercise to rest. Rest, as most cases of Achilles tendinitis are caused by overuse, rest is probably the single biggest factor in preventing Achilles injury. Avoid over training, get plenty of rest; and prevent Achilles tendinitis.

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