Overview

Achilles TendonAchilles tendinitis is often a misnomer, as most problems associated with the Achilles tendon are not strictly an inflammatory response. A more appropriate term, which most experts now use, is Achilles tendinopathy which includes, Tendinosis, microtears in the tissues in and around the tendon. Tendinitis, inflammation of the tendon Most cases of Achilles tendon pain is the result of tendinosis. Tendon inflammation (tendinitis) is rarely the cause of tendon pain. Achilles tendinopathy is a common condition that occurs particularly in athletes and can be difficult to treat due to the limited vascular supply of the tendon and the stress within the Achilles tendon with every step. Evidence indicates that treatment incorporating custom foot orthoses can improve this condition by making the foot a more effective lever in gait. A 2008 study reported between 50 and 100% relief (average 92%) from Achilles tendinopathy symptoms with the use of custom foot orthoses.

Causes

Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury. Too much too soon is the common cause of overuse injuries, however other factors can contribute to developing the condition. An increase in activity, either distance, speed or a sudden change to running up hills. As a rule of thumb distance runners should increase their mileage by no more than 10% per week. A change of footwear or training surface for example suddenly running on soft sand can cause the heel to drop lower than normal making the tendon stretch further than it is used to. Weak calf muscles can tighten or go into partial spasm which again increases the strain on the achilles tendon by shortening the muscle. Running up hills - the achilles tendon has to stretch more than normal on every stride. This is fine for a while but will mean the tendon will fatigue sooner than normal. Overpronation or feet which roll in when running can place an increased strain on the achilles tendon. As the foot rolls in (flattens) the lower leg also rotates inwards which places twisting stresses on the tendon. Wearing high heels constantly shortens the tendon and calf muscles. When exercising in flat running shoes, the tendon is stretched beyond its normal range which places an abnormal strain on the tendon.

Symptoms

The pain associated with Achilles tendinitis typically begins as a mild ache in the back of the leg or above the heel after running or other sports activity. Episodes of more severe pain may occur after prolonged running, stair climbing or sprinting. You might also experience tenderness or stiffness, especially in the morning, which usually improves with mild activity. If you experience persistent pain around the Achilles tendon, call your doctor. Seek immediate medical attention if the pain or disability is severe. You may have a torn (ruptured) Achilles tendon.

Diagnosis

If Achilles tendonitis is suspected, avoid any exercise or activity that causes the pain. It is advisable to see a doctor promptly so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment recommended. The doctor will take a full medical history and will ask about the nature and duration of the symptoms. They will perform a physical examination of the affected area. Ultrasound scanning may be used to assess damage to the tendon or surrounding structures. Occasionally MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be recommended. The symptoms of Achilles tendonitis are often similar to symptoms of other conditions such as partial Achilles tendon rupture and heel bursitis. This can make diagnosis difficult and a referral to an orthopaedic specialist may be required in order for an accurate diagnosis to be made.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Initial treatment of mild Achilles tendinitis involves rest, stretching exercises, and non-prescriptive medications to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. These medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Relief of pain and swelling may be achieved with the application of ice for15 minutes at a time. Sleeping with the affected foot propped up on a pillow may also relieve swelling. Adequate time must be given to rest and recovery, meaning months or weeks, to prevent re-injury of the Achilles tendon. Most people make a full recovery and are able to return to their regular sports and exercise programs.

Achilles Tendon

Surgical Treatment

When the tendon tears or ruptures the variety of surgical techniques are available to repair the damage and restore the tendons function. Recent research that is done at Emory University Department of orthopedics have perfected the repair of the Achilles tendon. The procedure is generally involves making an incision in the back of your leg and stitching the torn tendon together using a technique developed and tested by Dr. Labib. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue the repair may be reinforced with other tendons.

Prevention

Wear shoes that fit correctly and support your feet: Replace your running or exercise shoes before the padding or shock absorption wears out. Shock absorption greatly decreases as the treads on the bottoms or sides of your shoes begin to wear down. You may need running shoes that give your foot more heel or arch support. You may need shoe inserts to keep your foot from rolling inward. Stretch before you exercise: Always warm up your muscles and stretch gently before you exercise. Do cool down exercises when you are finished. This will loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your Achilles tendon. Exercise the right way: If your tendinitis is caused by the way that you exercise, ask a trainer, coach, or your caregiver for help. They can teach you ways to train or exercise to help prevent Achilles tendinitis. Do not run or exercise on uneven or hard surfaces. Instead, run on softer surfaces such as treadmills, rubber tracks, grass, or evenly packed dirt tracks.