Achilles tendonitis is a condition of irritation and inflammation of the large tendon in the back of the ankle. Achilles tendonitis is a common injury that tends to occur in recreational athletes. Overuse of the Achilles tendon can cause inflammation that can lead to pain and swelling. Achilles tendonitis is differentiated from another common Achilles tendon condition called Achilles tendinosis. Patients with Achilles tendinosis have chronic Achilles swelling and pain as a result of degenerative, microscopic tears within the tendon.
Some of the causes of Achilles tendonitis / tendinosis include. Overuse injury – this occurs when the Achilles tendon is stressed until it develops small tears. Runners seem to be the most susceptible. People who play sports that involve jumping, such as basketball, are also at increased risk. Arthritis – Achilles tendonitis can be a part of generalised inflammatory arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis. In these conditions both tendons can be affected. Foot problems – some people with over pronated feet (Flat Feet) or feet that turn inward while walking are prone to Achilles tendonitis. The flattened arch pulls on calf muscles and keeps the Achilles tendon under tight strain. This constant mechanical stress on the heel and tendon can cause inflammation, pain and swelling of the tendon. Being overweight can make the problem worse. Footwear – wearing shoes with minimal support while walking or running can increase the risk, as can wearing high heels. Overweight and obesity – being overweight places more strain on many parts of the body, including the Achilles tendon.
Pain in the back of the heel that can be a shooting pain, burning pain or even an intense piercing pain. Swelling, tenderness and warmth over the Achilles tendon especially at the insertion of the tendon to the calcaneous, which may even extend into the muscle of the calf. Difficulty walking, sometimes the pain makes walking impossible. Pain that is aggravated by activities that repeatedly stress the tendon, causing inflammation or pain that occurs in the first few steps of the morning or after sitting down for extended periods of time which gets better with mild activity. It is important to note though that achilles tendinosis can develop gradually without a history of trauma.
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.
Achilles tendonitis will often respond to rest or changes in activity, stretching, or ice after activity. Non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen may also help. Physical therapy focusing on stretching and strengthening, massage, alternating hot and cold baths, and ultrasound or sound waves can also help with healing and comfort. The temporary use of a heel lift or the insertion of an arch support, called an orthotic, into the shoe or sneaker can also help. Although seldom necessary, the ankle may be kept in a short leg cast or splint. Surgery is rarely needed but can remove bone spurs or the bony prominence of the heel bone. The injection of corticosteroids such as cortisone into the area of the Achilles tendon is usually avoided because it may cause the tendon to rupture.
If non-surgical treatment fails to cure the condition then surgery can be considered. This is more likely to be the case if the pain has been present for six months or more. The nature of the surgery depends if you have insertional, or non-insertional disease. In non-insertional tendonosis the damaged tendon is thinned and cleaned. The damage is then repaired. If there is extensive damage one of the tendons which moves your big toe (the flexor hallucis longus) may be used to reinforce the damaged Achilles tendon. In insertional tendonosis there is often rubbing of the tendon by a prominent part of the heel bone. This bone is removed. In removing the bone the attachment of the tendon to the bone may be weakened. In these cases the attachment of the tendon to the bone may need to be reinforced with sutures and bone anchors.
Suggestions to reduce your risk of Achilles tendonitis include, incorporate stretching into your warm-up and cool-down routines, maintain an adequate level of fitness for your sport, avoid dramatic increases in sports training, if you experience pain in your Achilles tendon, rest the area. Trying to ?work through? the pain will only make your injury worse, wear good quality supportive shoes appropriate to your sport. If there is foot deformity or flattening, obtain orthoses, avoid wearing high heels on a regular basis. Maintaining your foot in a ?tiptoe? position shortens your calf muscles and reduces the flexibility of your Achilles tendon. An inflexible Achilles tendon is more susceptible to injury, maintain a normal healthy weight.