Achilles tendinitis is a common condition that causes pain on the back of the leg near the heel. The achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body connecting your calf muscles to your heel bone. Your achilles tendon is used when you walk, run or jump. It is made to withstand a high amount of stress from these activities, but when it is overused, you can develop tendinitis. Tendinitis is defined as inflammation of a tendon. When you are injured, your body’s natural response causes inflammation. You may experience pain, swelling, or tenderness at the injured site. There are two types of achilles tendinitis, insertional and non-insertional achilles tendinitis.
There are two large muscles in the calf. These muscles are important for walking. They create the power needed to push off with the foot or go up on the toes. The large Achilles tendon connects these muscles to the heel. Heel pain is most often due to overuse of the foot. Rarely it is caused by an injury. Tendinitis due to overuse is most common in younger people. It can occur in walkers, runners, or other athletes. Achilles tendinitis may be more likely to occur if you Suddenly increase the amount or intensity of an activity. Your calf muscles are very tight (not stretched out). You run on hard surfaces such as concrete. You run too often, you jump a lot (such as when playing basketball), you do not have shoes with proper support, your foot suddenly turns in or out. Tendinitis from arthritis is more common in middle-aged and elderly people. A bone spur or growth may form in the back of the heel bone. This may irritate the Achilles tendon and cause pain and swelling.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include, pain and stiffness along the Achilles tendon in the morning, pain along the tendon or back of the heel that worsens with activity, Severe pain the day after exercising, thickening of the tendon, bone spur (insertional tendinitis) swelling that is present all the time and gets worse throughout the day with activity, If you have experienced a sudden “pop” in the back of your calf or heel, you may have ruptured (torn) your Achilles tendon. See your doctor immediately if you think you may have torn your tendon.
A podiatrist can usually make the diagnosis by clinical history and physical examination alone. Pain with touching or stretching the tendon is typical. There may also be a visible swelling to the tendon. The patient frequently has difficulty plantarflexing (pushing down the ball of the foot and toes, like one would press on a gas pedal), particularly against resistance. In most cases X-rays don’t show much, as they tend to show bone more than soft tissues. But X-rays may show associated degeneration of the heel bone that is common with Achilles Tendon problems. For example, heel spurs, calcification within the tendon, avulsion fractures, periostitis (a bruising of the outer covering of the bone) may all be seen on X-ray. In cases where we are uncertain as to the extent of the damage to the tendon, though, an MRI scan may be necessary, which images the soft tissues better than X-rays. When the tendon is simply inflamed and not severely damaged, the problem may or may not be visible on MRI. It depends upon the severity of the condition.
The best treatment for Achilles tendonitis is preventative, stretching and warming up properly before starting an activity. Proper rest, accompanied by stretching and icing to reduce swelling, can help to heal an overworked Achilles tendon. Placing an adequate heel lift in both shoes will allow the heel to have contact with the ground without placing stress on the Achilles tendon. Wear a tie shoe that is stiff soled and has a wide base, then add an over-the-counter or custom foot orthosis inside the shoe to prevent the twisting motion of the Achilles tendon due to over pronation. In the event that the tendon is unable to heal due to your life style or activity, you may have to be put in a walking cast for a short period to give it a chance to heal. You need to have the doctor, physical therapist, or come in to our facility to check for a leg length difference due to the walking cast being higher. This is to prevent any discomfort to the hips. After the tendon has healed and before the foot is taken out of the walking cast, range of motion at the ankle must be tested and if the foot is not allowed to properly bend upwards 15 degrees then the tightness in the calf will cause the foot to over pronate and reinjure. A stretching program will be needed to loosen up the calf muscle before much weight bearing is done without the cast. The stretching program can be found at the menu for feet hurt. If necessary a heel lift can be put in both shoes to help take the stress off the tendon. Should the tightness of the calves be the primary cause for the Achilles tendon damage and stretching has not loosen the Achilles tendon sufficiently, then discussion with your doctor for a calf release may have to be considered.
Surgical treatment for tendons that fail to respond to conservative treatment can involve several procedures, all of which are designed to irritate the tendon and initiate a chemically mediated healing response. These procedures range from more simple procedures such as percutaneous tenotomy61 to open procedures and removal of tendon pathology. Percutaneous tenotomy resulted in 75% of patients reporting good or excellent results after 18 months. Open surgery for Achilles tendinopathy has shown that the outcomes are better for those tendons without a focal lesion compared with those with a focal area of tendinopathy.62 At 7 months after surgery, 67% had returned to physical activity, 88% from the no-lesion group and 50% from the group with a focal lesion.
While it may not be possible to prevent Achilles tendinitis, you can take measures to reduce your risk. Increase your activity level gradually. If you’re just beginning an exercise regimen, start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the training. Take it easy. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your tendons, such as hill running. If you participate in a strenuous activity, warm up first by exercising at a slower pace. If you notice pain during a particular exercise, stop and rest. Choose your shoes carefully. The shoes you wear while exercising should provide adequate cushioning for your heel and should have a firm arch support to help reduce the tension in the Achilles tendon. Replace your worn-out shoes. If your shoes are in good condition but don’t support your feet, try arch supports in both shoes. Stretch daily. Take the time to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon in the morning, before exercise and after exercise to maintain flexibility. This is especially important to avoid a recurrence of Achilles tendinitis. Strengthen your calf muscles. Strong calf muscles enable the calf and Achilles tendon to better handle the stresses they encounter with activity and exercise. Cross-train. Alternate high-impact activities, such as running and jumping, with low-impact activities, such as cycling and swimming.