Achilles Tendonitis

Overview

Achilles TendinitisThe 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

People with achilles tendinitis experience mild aching on the back of the leg close to the heel after increased activity. Stiffness in the back of the ankle when you first wake up in the morning, which subsides after mild activity. In some cases, the area may have swelling, thickening or be warm to the touch. Tenderness to touch along the tendon in the back of the ankle. Pain when the tendon is stretched (i.e. when you lift your foot/toes up).




Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made via discussion with your doctor and physical examination. Typically, imaging studies are not needed to make the diagnosis. However, in some cases, an ultrasound is useful in looking for evidence of degenerative changes in the tendon and to rule out tendon rupture. An MRI can be used for similar purposes, as well. Your physician will determine whether or not further studies are necessary.




Nonsurgical Treatment

Treatment approaches for Achilles tendonitis or tendonosis are selected on the basis of how long the injury has been present and the degree of damage to the tendon. In the early stage, when there is sudden (acute) inflammation, one or more of the following options may be recommended. Immobilization. Immobilization may involve the use of a cast or removable walking boot to reduce forces through the Achilles tendon and promote healing. Ice. To reduce swelling due to inflammation, apply a bag of ice over a thin towel to the affected area for 20 minutes of each waking hour. Do not put ice directly against the skin. Oral medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be helpful in reducing the pain and inflammation in the early stage of the condition. Orthotics. For those with over-pronation or gait abnormalities, custom orthotic devices may be prescribed. Night splints. Night splints help to maintain a stretch in the Achilles tendon during sleep. Physical therapy. Physical therapy may include strengthening exercises, soft-tissue massage/mobilization, gait and running re-education, stretching, and ultrasound therapy.

Achilles Tendinitis




Surgical Treatment

Surgery is considered the last resort. It is only recommended if all other treatment options have failed after at least six months. In this situation, badly damaged portions of the tendon may be removed. If the tendon has ruptured, surgery is necessary to re-attach the tendon. Rehabilitation, including stretching and strength exercises, is started soon after the surgery. In most cases, normal activities can be resumed after about 10 weeks. Return to competitive sport for some people may be delayed for about three to six months.




Prevention

Maintaining strength and flexibility in the muscles of the calf will help reduce the risk of tendinitis. Overusing a weak or tight Achilles tendon makes you more likely to develop tendinitis.

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