The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Jumping, climbing and strenuous exercise can strain the tendon and calf muscle, which can cause the type of inflammation known as tendinitis. This injury can be mild enough that it can be treated by over-the-counter medications or so severe that it must be repaired surgically. Chronic tendinitis can cause microscopic tears in the muscle which can weaken the tendon and increase the risk for tear or rupture. Symptoms usually include pain and swelling near the ankle. Pain may lead to weakness in the area that increases with walking and running. Stiffness in the tendon may be worse in the morning.
There are a number of ways a person can develop Achilles tendinitis. Some causes are easier to avoid than others, but being aware of them can aid earlier diagnosis and help prevent serious injury. Causes of Achilles tendinitis include, using incorrect or worn out shoes when running or exercising. Not warming up properly before exercise. Increasing intensity of exercise too quickly (e.g. running speed or distance covered). Prematurely introducing hill running or stair climbing to exercise routine. Running on hard or uneven surfaces. Calf muscle is injured or has little flexibility (this puts a lot of strain on the Achilles tendon). Sudden intense physical activity such as sprinting for the finish line. Achilles tendinitis can also be caused by differences in foot, leg or ankle anatomy. For example, some people can have flatness in their foot where there would normally be an arch; this puts more strain on the tendon. The FDA has asked that a boxed warning be added to the prescribing information for fluoroquinolone antibiotics. Patients taking these drugs may experience an increased risk of tendinitis and tendon rupture. Fluoroquinolones include Cipro (ciprofloxacin), Factive (gemifloxacin), Levaquin (levofloxacin), Avelox (moxifloxacin), Noroxin (norfloxacin), Floxin (ofloxacin) and Proquin (ciprofloxacin hydrochloride). It is important to remember that the risk for injury is not necessarily gone when the drug is stopped. Cases have been reported in which tendon problems occurred up to several months after the drug was discontinued.
Patients with this condition typically experience pain in the region of the heel and back of the ankle. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the Achilles region that increases with rest (typically at night or first thing in the morning) following activities which place stress on the Achilles tendon. These activities typically include walking or running excessively (especially uphill or on uneven surfaces), jumping, hopping, performing heel raises or performing calf stretches. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. Pain may also increase when performing a calf stretch or heel raise (i.e. rising up onto tip toes). In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Patients with Achilles tendonitis may also experience swelling, tenderness on firmly touching the Achilles tendon, weakness and sometimes palpable thickening of the affected Achilles tendon when compared with the unaffected side.
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.
Treatment options might include anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen which might help with acute achilles inflammation and pain but has not been proven to be beneficial long term and may even inhibit healing. If the injury is severe then a plaster cast might be applied to immobilize the tendon. Use of electrotherapy such as ultrasound treatment, laser therapy and extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) may be beneficial in reducing pain and encouraging healing. Applying sports massage techniques can mobilze the tissues or the tendon itself and help stretch the calf muscles. Some might give a steroid injection however an injection directly into the tendon is not recommended. Some specialists believe this can increase the risk of a total rupture of the tendon in future. One of the most effective forms of treatment for achilles tendonitis is a full rehabilitation program consisting of eccentric strengthening exercises. There is now considerable evidence suggesting the effectiveness of slow eccentric rehabilitation exercises for curing achilles tendon pain.
There are two types of Achilles repair surgery for tendonitis (inflammation of the Achilles Tendon), if nonsurgical treatments aren’t effective. Gastrocnemius recession – The orthopaedic surgeon lengthens the calf muscles to reduce stress on your Achilles tendon. D?bridement and repair – During this procedure, the surgeon removes the damaged part of the Achilles tendon and repairs the remaining tendon with sutures or stitches. Debridement is done when the tendon has less than 50% damage.
Stay in good shape year-round and try to keep your muscles as strong as they can be. Strong, flexible muscles work more efficiently and put less stress on your tendon. Increase the intensity and length of your exercise sessions gradually. This is especially important if you’ve been inactive for a while or you’re new to a sport. Always warm up before you go for a run or play a sport. If your muscles are tight, your Achilles tendons have to work harder to compensate. Stretch it out. Stretch your legs, especially your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and thigh muscles – these muscles help stabilize your knee while running. Get shoes that fit properly and are designed for your sport. If you’re a jogger, go to a running specialty store and have a trained professional help you select shoes that match your foot type and offer plenty of support. Replace your shoes before they become worn out. Try to run on softer surfaces like grass, dirt trails, or synthetic tracks. Hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt can put extra pressure on the joints. Also avoid running up or down hills as much as possible. Vary your exercise routine. Work different muscle groups to keep yourself in good overall shape and keep individual muscles from getting overused. If you notice any symptoms of Achilles tendonitis, stop running or doing activities that put stress on your feet. Wait until all the pain is gone or you have been cleared to start participating again by a doctor.