What Should I Do About Achilles Tendonitis ?

Overview

Achilles TendonitisA tendon is a band of connective tissue that anchors muscle to bone. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone (calcaneus) and is very important because it lets you lift your heel when you start to walk. It also helps you to walk, run or stand on tiptoe. Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon. In most cases, it is a type of overuse injury and is more common in younger people. Professional and weekend athletes can suffer from Achilles tendonitis, but it is also a common overuse injury in people not involved in sport. Treatment includes rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy and avoiding activities that aggravate the condition.

Causes

Achilles tendinitis can be caused by overly tight calf muscles, excessive running up hill or down hill, a sudden increase in the amount of exercise, e.g. running for a longer distance, wearing ill-fitting running shoes, such as those with soles that are too stiff, or wearing high heels regularly, or changing between high heels all day and flat shoes or low running shoes in the evening. Overuse is common in walkers, runners, dancers and other athletes who do a lot of jumping and sudden starts/stops, which exert a lot of stress on the Achilles tendon. Continuing to stress an inflamed Achilles tendon can cause rupture of the tendon - it snaps, often with a distinctive popping sound. A ruptured Achilles tendon makes it virtually impossible to walk. An Achilles tendon rupture is usually treated by surgical repair or wearing a cast.

Symptoms

Most cases of Achilles tendonitis start out slowly, with very little pain, and then grow worse over time. Some of the more common symptoms include mild pain or an ache above the heel and in the lower leg, especially after running or doing other physical activities, pain that gets worse when walking uphill, climbing stairs, or taking part in intense or prolonged exercise, stiffness and tenderness in the heel, especially in the morning, that gradually goes away, swelling or hard knots of tissue in the Achilles tendon, a creaking or crackling sound when moving the ankle or pressing on the Achilles tendon, weakness in the affected leg.

Diagnosis

On examination, an inflamed or partially torn Achilles tendon is tender when squeezed between the fingers. Complete tears are differentiated by sudden, severe pain and inability to walk on the extremity. A palpable defect along the course of the tendon. A positive Thompson test (while the patient lies prone on the examination table, the examiner squeezes the calf muscle; this maneuver by the examiner does not cause the normally expected plantar flexion of the foot).

Nonsurgical Treatment

NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Steroid injections. Steroids decrease pain and swelling. After you get this shot, you may feel like your Achilles tendon is healed. Do not return to your regular exercise until your caregiver says it is okay. You could make the tendinitis worse, or even tear the tendon. Surgery. If your tendinitis does not heal with other treatments, you may need surgery. Surgery may be done to repair a tear in the tendon, or to remove parts of the tendon. The most important way to manage Achilles tendinitis is to rest. Rest decreases swelling and keeps your tendinitis from getting worse. You may feel pain when you begin to run or exercise. The pain usually goes away as your muscles warm up, but it may come back. Your caregiver may tell you to stop your usual training or exercise activities. He may give you other exercises to do until your Achilles tendon heals. Ice decreases swelling and pain. Put ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Put this on your Achilles tendon for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day. Do this for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away. After 2 or 3 days, you may use heat to decrease pain and stiffness. Use a hot water bottle, heating pad, whirlpool, or warm compress. To make a compress, soak a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring out the extra water and put it on your Achilles tendon 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day. Stretching and making the muscles stronger may help decrease stress on your Achilles tendon. Physical therapists can teach you exercises and treatments to help your tendinitis heal faster. You may need to wear inserts in your shoes. You may need to wrap tape around your heel and back of the leg. You may need to wear a cast, brace, or support boot.

Achilles Tendinitis

Surgical Treatment

Most people will improve with simple measures or physiotherapy. A small number continue to have major problems which interfere with their lifestyle. In this situation an operation may be considered. If an operation is being considered, the surgeon will interview you and examine you again and may want you to have further treatment before making a decision about an operation. Before undergoing Achilles tendonitis surgery, London based patients, and those who can travel, will be advised to undergo a scan, which will reveal whether there is a problem in the tendon which can be corrected by surgery. Patients will also have the opportunity to ask any questions and raise any concerns that they may have, so that they can proceed with the treatment with peace of mind.

Prevention

Regardless of whether the Achilles injury is insertional or non-insertional, a great method for lessening stress on the Achilles tendon is flexor digitorum longus exercises. This muscle, which originates along the back of the leg and attaches to the tips of the toes, lies deep to the Achilles. It works synergistically with the soleus muscle to decelerate the forward motion of the leg before the heel leaves the ground during propulsion. This significantly lessens strain on the Achilles tendon as it decelerates elongation of the tendon. Many foot surgeons are aware of the connection between flexor digitorum longus and the Achilles tendon-surgical lengthening of the Achilles (which is done to treat certain congenital problems) almost always results in developing hammer toes as flexor digitorum longus attempts to do the job of the recently lengthened tendon. Finally, avoid having cortisone injected into either the bursa or tendon-doing so weakens the tendon as it shifts production of collagen from type one to type three. In a recent study published in the Journal of Bone Joint Surgery(9), cortisone was shown to lower the stress necessary to rupture the Achilles tendon, and was particularly dangerous when done on both sides, as it produced a systemic effect that further weakened the tendon.

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