Coping With Achilles Tendonitis

Overview

Achilles TendonitisThe Achilles is a large tendon that connects two major calf muscles to the back of the heel bone. If this tendon is overworked and tightens, the collagen fibres of the tendon may break, causing inflammation and pain. This can result in scar tissue formation, a type of tissue that does not have the flexibility of tendon tissue. Four types of Achilles injuries exist, 1) Paratendonitis – involves a crackly or crepitus feeling in the tissues surrounding the Achilles tendon. 2) Proliferative Tendinitis – the Achilles tendon thickens as a result of high tension placed on it. 3) Degenerative Tendinitis – a chronic condition where the Achilles tendon is permanently damaged and does not regain its structure. 4) Enthesis – an inflammation at the point where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone.

Causes

The Achilles tendon is a strong band of connective tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. When the muscle contracts, the tendon transmits the power of this contraction to the heel, producing movement. The Achilles tendon moves through a protective sheath and is made up of thousands of tiny fibres. It is thought that Achilles tendonitis develops when overuse of the tendon causes the tiny fibres that make up the tendon to tear. This causes inflammation, pain and swelling. As the tendon swells it can begin to rub against the sheath surrounding it, irritating the sheath and causing it too to become inflamed and swollen. It has a poor blood supply, which can make it susceptible to injury and can make recovery from injury slow. Factors that can lead to the development of Achilles tendonitis include, tight or weak calf muscles, rapidly increasing the amount or intensity of exercise. Hill climbing or stair climbing exercises. Changes in footwear, particularly changing from wearing high-heeled shoes to wearing flat shoes. Wearing inadequate or inappropriate shoes for the sporting activity being undertaken. Not adequately warming up and stretching prior to exercise. A sudden sharp movement that causes the calf muscles to contract and the stress on the Achilles tendon to be increased. This can cause the tendon fibres to tear.

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

Laboratory studies usually are not necessary in evaluating and diagnosing an Achilles tendon rupture or injury, although evaluation may help to rule out some of the other possibilities in the differential diagnosis. Imaging studies. Plain radiography: Radiographs are more useful for ruling out other injuries than for ruling in Achilles tendon ruptures. Ultrasonography: Ultrasonography of the leg and thigh can help to evaluate the possibility of deep venous thrombosis and also can be used to rule out a Baker cyst; in experienced hands, ultrasonography can identify a ruptured Achilles tendon or the signs of tendinosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI can facilitate definitive diagnosis of a disrupted tendon and can be used to distinguish between paratenonitis, tendinosis, and bursitis.

Nonsurgical Treatment

The aim, when treating Achilles tendinitis, is to relieve pain and reduce swelling. The kind of treatment used can vary, based on the severity of the condition and whether or not the patient is a professional athlete. After diagnosis, the doctor will decide which method of treatment is required for the patient to undergo, it is likely that they will suggest a combination. Stretching achilles tendon, a doctor might show the patient some stretching exercises that help the Achilles tendon heal, as well as preventing future injury. Methods used to treat Achilles tendinitis include, ice packs – applying these to the tendon, when in pain or after exercising, can alleviate the pain and inflammation. Resting, this gives the tissue time to heal. The type of rest needed depends on the severity of the symptoms. In mild cases of Achilles tendinitis, it may mean just reducing the intensity of a workout, in severe cases it might mean complete rest for days or weeks. Elevating the foot, swelling can be reduced if the foot is kept raised above the level of the heart. Exercise and stretching, a doctor might show the patient some stretching exercises that help the Achilles tendon heal, as well as preventing future injury. They may, instead, refer the patient to a physiotherapist or another specialist. The exercises learned will improve the flexibility of the area and likely increase calf strength. Pain relievers – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen can reduce pain and swelling. If you suffer from asthma, kidney disease or liver disease do not take NSAIDs without first checking with your doctor. Steroid injections, these can reduce tendon swelling, but should be performed with caution, as this process has been associated with a greater risk of tendon rupture. A doctor would likely perform the injection while scanning the area with ultrasound to reduce this risk. Compression bandages and orthotic devices, such as ankle supports and shoe inserts can aid recovery as they take the stress off the Achilles tendon.

Achilles Tendon

Surgical Treatment

Surgery for an Achilles tendon rupture can be done with a single large incision, which is called open surgery. Or it can be done with several small incisions. This is called percutaneous surgery. The differences in age and activity levels of people who get surgery can make it hard to know if Achilles tendon surgery is effective. The success of your surgery can depend on, your surgeon’s experience. The type of surgery you have. How damaged the tendon is. How soon after rupture the surgery is done. How soon you start your rehab program after surgery. How well you follow your rehab program. Talk to your surgeon about his or her surgical experience. Ask about his or her success rate with the technique that would best treat your condition.

Prevention

Warm up slowly by running at least one minute per mile slower than your usual pace for the first mile. Running backwards during your first mile is also a very effective way to warm up the Achilles, because doing so produces a gentle eccentric load that acts to strengthen the tendon. Runners should also avoid making sudden changes in mileage, and they should be particularly careful when wearing racing flats, as these shoes produce very rapid rates of pronation that increase the risk of Achilles tendon injury. If you have a tendency to be stiff, spend extra time stretching. If you?re overly flexible, perform eccentric load exercises preventively. Lastly, it is always important to control biomechanical alignment issues, either with proper running shoes and if necessary, stock or custom orthotics.

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