Achilles tendinitis is a common condition that causes pain along the back of the leg near the heel. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects your calf muscles to your heel bone and is used when you walk, run, and jump. Although the Achilles tendon can withstand great stresses from running and jumping, it is also prone to tendonitis, a condition associated with overuse and degeneration. Tendons become inflamed for a variety of reasons, and the action of pulling the muscle becomes irritating. If the normal, smooth gliding motion of the tendon is impaired, the tendon will become inflamed and movement will become painful. This is called tendonitis, meaning inflammation of the tendon. Achilles tendonitis is typically not related to a specific injury. The problem results from repetitive stress to the tendon. This often happens when we push our bodies to do too much, too soon, but other factors can make it more likely to develop tendinitis, including: a sudden increase in the amount or intensity of exercise activity, tight calf muscles, or a bone spur that has developed where the tendon attaches to the heel bone.
Excessive exercise is a common cause of Achilles tendonitis. This is particularly true for athletes. However, factors unrelated to exercise may also contribute to risk. Rheumatoid arthritis and infection are both correlated with tendonitis. In general, any repeated activity that strains the Achilles tendon can contribute to this problem. Here are a few possible causes, jumping into an exercise routine without a proper warm-up, straining calf muscles during repeated exercise or physical activity, playing sports such as tennis that require quick stops and changes of direction, wearing old or ill-fitting shoes, wearing high heels every day.
Symptoms can vary from an achy pain and stiffness to the insertion of the Achilles tendon to the heel bone (calcaneus), to a burning that surrounds the whole joint around the inflamed thick tendon. With this condition, the pain is usually worse during and after activity, and the tendon and joint area can become stiffer the following day. This is especially true if your sheets are pushing down on your toes and thereby driving your foot into what is termed plantar flexion (downward flexed foot), as this will shorten the tendon all night.
To diagnose the condition correctly, your doctor will ask you a few questions about the pain and swelling in your heel. You may be asked to stand on the balls of your feet while your doctor observes your range of motion and flexibility. The doctor may also touch the area directly. This allows him to pinpoint where the pain and swelling is most severe.
Ask your Pharmacist for advice. 1) Your Pharmacy stocks a range of cold packs which may be applied to the area to decrease inflammation. 2) Ask your Pharmacist about a temporary heel raise or pad which can be inserted into footwear to decrease the force absorbed by the tendon when the feet land heavily on the ground. 3) Gently massaging a heat-producing liniment into the calf can help to relieve tension in the muscle which may relieve the symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis. Ask your Pharmacist to recommend the most appropriate type. 4) Gels, sprays or creams which help to reduce inflammation are available and may be applied to the injured area. Ask your Pharmacist for advice. 5) Your Pharmacist can advise you on analgesic, anti-inflammatory medications such as Aspirin which may be of assistance. Aspirin should be avoided in children under the age of 12 and those aged 12 to 15 who have a fever. 6) Strapping the ankle can help restrict movement and minimise further injury. Your Pharmacist stocks a range of athletic strapping tape and ankle guards which may assist your injury.
In most surgeries, damaged tissue is cleaned out before surgeons make the necessary repairs. However, a new minimally-invasive surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon actually uses the damaged tissue to help repair the tear. The percutaneous Achilles repair system, or PARS technique, enables surgeons to better repair a torn Achilles tendon through a smaller incision. This procedure was recently performed at Houston Methodist Hospital to treat an NFL cornerback, getting him back on field for this season.
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.