Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury common in many sports that require lots of running and jumping. Once this condition becomes more chronic adhesions that form along the tissues and the injury becomes more of a tendinosis. Treatment for a tendinosis is much different that for a tendinitis, so it is important to recognize what stage the injury is at in order to treat it appropriately. An acute achilles tendinitis involves inflammation and would be treated with rest, ice, etc. Once the inflammation has decreased, research shows that eccentric exercises are beneficial. Once there is tendinosis, it becomes imperative to break up those adhesions with ART and prescribe appropriate stretches and exercises.
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.
A symptom is something the patient feels and reports, while a sign is something other people, such as a doctor, detect. For example, pain is a symptom, while a rash is a sign. The most typical symptom of Achilles tendinitis is a gradual buildup of pain that deteriorates with time. With Achilles tendinitis, the Achilles tendon may feel sore a few centimeters above where it meets the heel bone. Other possible signs and symptoms of Achilles tendinitis are, the Achilles tendon feels sore a few centimeters above where it meets the heel bone, lower leg feels stiff or lower leg feels slow and weak. Slight pain in the back of the leg that appears after running or exercising, and worsens, pain in the Achilles tendon that occurs while running or a couple of hours afterwards. Greater pain experienced when running fast (such as sprinting), for a long time (such as cross country), or even when climbing stairs. The Achilles tendon swells or forms a bump or the Achilles tendon creaks when touched or moved. Please note that these symptoms, and others similar can occur in other conditions, so for an accurate diagnosis, the patient would need to visit their doctor.
A doctor examines the patient, checking for pain and swelling along the posterior of the leg. The doctor interviews the patient regarding the onset, history, and description of pain and weakness. The muscles, tissues, bones, and blood vessels may be evaluated with imaging studies, such as X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI.
Make sure that the tendon is not torn through and through. If it is severed, you must see a doctor immediately so that the tendon can be repaired. Severe injuries can sever a tendon, without a skin laceration being present. Testing involves moving the toes and foot to see if the tendon moves. If the tendon does not appear to move, it may be severed (comparing the injured tendon and its movement to the same tendon on the uninjured foot may help). Very sharp pain, a sudden pop, or an obvious gap in the structure of the tendon are all signs of a rupture, and should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. If there is extreme swelling of the leg, and pain (out of proportion to the amount of trauma received), you may have sustained a vascular injury. A doctor must see this type of injury immediately. If you are not sure, see a doctor. If you have multiple injured areas see a doctor immediately, in order to prevent excessive swelling and pain. If the above exam is negative, then you may proceed with self-treatment. (However, if you are not sure of the extent of your injury, you should consult your doctor immediately). The sooner you begin to treat your injury by following “R.I.C.E.”, the better you will feel. Rest is very important. Take off your shoe, get off your feet, and relax. Ice should be applied as soon as possible. Never apply ice directly on the injured area, as the cold may make the pain worse. Ice should be applied close to the injured site, between the heart and the injury, so that as the blood flows under the ice, it will be cooled. This cool blood flowing into the injured area will help to reduce the swelling and pain. Apply the ice, wrapped in a cloth or over an elastic bandage, to the foot for 15 minutes, every 1-2 hours, for up to 3 days after an injury. If the ice is uncomfortable, or causes increased pain, do not continue to use it, and see a doctor. If you have poor circulation do not use ice, as this may cause a serious problem. c. Compression is used to limit swelling, and to give support to the injured area. Compression should be applied to the entire foot, starting first at the toes and working back to the ankle. If it is applied just to the injured area, increased swelling will occur in front and behind the wrapping. Compression should be applied with a 3-inch elastic bandage, beginning around the base of all the toes, and then going around the foot and ankle. Continue over the calf muscle when possible. Compression reduces motion in the injured area and foot, and this decreases the pain, and allows for quicker healing. The bandage should not be so tight that it causes increased pain or throbbing in the toes or foot. It should be comfortable! Do not remove the elastic bandage for the first 12 hours, unless it becomes too tight, or the pain increases, or the toes become pale, blue, or cool. If any of these things happen, immediately remove all bandages, and leave them off for several hours. The normal color and temperature of the toes should return immediately. If not, see a doctor immediately! Continue until the swelling and pain subsides; it could take from several days to several weeks. d. Elevation of the leg will aid in reducing swelling and pain. Blood rushes to an injured area to bring increased blood cells, that aid in healing. Gravity will also force blood to the injured area. Too many cells and too much fluid will apply pressure to the injured nerves and tissues, and cause increased pain and delayed healing. Keep your foot elevated so that it is at least parallel to the ground, or higher if it is comfortable. Do this for at least 48 hours, or until the throbbing subsides, when you lower the leg.
For paratenonitis, a technique called brisement is an option. Local anesthetic is injected into the space between the tendon and its surrounding sheath to break up scar tissue. This can be beneficial in earlier stages of the problem 30 to 50 percent of the time, but may need to be repeated two to three times. Surgery consists of cutting out the surrounding thickened and scarred sheath. The tendon itself is also explored and any split tears within the tendon are repaired. Motion is started almost immediately to prevent repeat scarring of the tendon to the sheath and overlying soft tissue, and weight-bearing should follow as soon as pain and swelling permit, usually less than one to two weeks. Return to competitive activity takes three to six months. Since tendinosis involves changes in the substance of the tendon, brisement is of no benefit. Surgery consists of cutting out scar tissue and calcification deposits within the tendon. Abnormal tissue is excised until tissue with normal appearance appears. The tendon is then repaired with suture. In older patients or when more than 50 percent of the tendon is removed, one of the other tendons at the back of the ankle is transferred to the heel bone to assist the Achilles tendon with strength as well as provide better blood supply to this area.
Although Achilles tendinitis cannot be completely prevented, the risk of developing it can be lowered. Being aware of the possible causes does help, but the risk can be greatly reduced by taking the following precautions. Getting a variety of exercise – alternating between high-impact exercises (e.g. running) and low-impact exercise (e.g. swimming) can help, as it means there are days when the Achilles tendon is under less tension. Limit certain exercises – doing too much hill running, for example, can put excessive strain on the Achilles tendon. Wearing the correct shoes and replacing them when worn – making sure they support the arch and protect the heel will create less tension in the tendon. Using arch supports inside the shoe, if the shoe is in good condition but doesn’t provide the required arch support this is a cheaper (and possibly more effective) alternative to replacing the shoe completely. Stretching, doing this before and after exercising helps to keep the Achilles tendon flexible, which means less chance of tendinitis developing. There is no harm in stretching every day (even on days of rest), as this will only further improve flexibility. Gradually increasing the intensity of a workout – Achilles tendinitis can occur when the tendon is suddenly put under too much strain, warming up and increasing the level of activity gradually gives your muscles time to loosen up and puts less pressure on the tendon.