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.
The causes of Achilles tendonitis all appear to be related to excessive stress being transmitted through the tendon. Weak calf muscles, poor ankle range of motion, and excessive pronation have all been connected with the development of Achilles problems.The upshot is that all of these factors, plus training volume and so on, result in damage to the tendon. Much like a bungee cord is made up of tiny strands of rubber aligned together, tendons are comprised of small fiber-like proteins called collagen. Pain in the Achilles tendon is a result of damage to the collagen. Because of this, treatment options should start with ways to address this.
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.
Your physiotherapist or sports doctor can usually confirm the diagnosis of Achilles tendonitis in the clinic. They will base their diagnosis on your history, symptom behaviour and clinical tests. Achilles tendons will often have a painful and prominent lump within the tendon. Further investigations include US scan or MRI. X-rays are of little use in the diagnosis.
Self-care strategies include the following steps, often known by the acronym R.I.C.E, Rest. You may need to avoid exercise for several days or switch to an activity that doesn’t strain the Achilles tendon, such as swimming. In severe cases, you may need to wear a walking boot and use crutches. Ice. To decrease pain or swelling, apply an ice pack to the tendon for about 15 minutes after exercising or when you experience pain. Compression. Wraps or compressive elastic bandages can help reduce swelling and reduce movement of the tendon. Elevation. Raise the affected foot above the level of your heart to reduce swelling. Sleep with your affected foot elevated at night.
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.
Although Achilles tendinitis cannot be completely prevented, the risk of developing it can be lowered. Being aware of the possible causes does help, but the risk can be greatly reduced by taking the following precautions. Getting a variety of exercise – alternating between high-impact exercises (e.g. running) and low-impact exercise (e.g. swimming) can help, as it means there are days when the Achilles tendon is under less tension. Limit certain exercises – doing too much hill running, for example, can put excessive strain on the Achilles tendon. Wearing the correct shoes and replacing them when worn – making sure they support the arch and protect the heel will create less tension in the tendon. Using arch supports inside the shoe, if the shoe is in good condition but doesn’t provide the required arch support this is a cheaper (and possibly more effective) alternative to replacing the shoe completely. Stretching, doing this before and after exercising helps to keep the Achilles tendon flexible, which means less chance of tendinitis developing. There is no harm in stretching every day (even on days of rest), as this will only further improve flexibility. Gradually increasing the intensity of a workout – Achilles tendinitis can occur when the tendon is suddenly put under too much strain, warming up and increasing the level of activity gradually gives your muscles time to loosen up and puts less pressure on the tendon.