All About Achilles Tendinitis

Overview

Achilles TendonitisThe Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, can withstand significant pressure from physical activities. Achilles tendinitis is estimated to account for approximately 11 percent of all running injuries, as the Achilles tendon provides the momentum to push off to walk or run. Achilles tendinitis, also called Achilles tendinopathy, results from overuse, injury or disease of the Achilles tendon, which causes the area to become inflamed. There are two types of Achilles tendinitis: Non-insertional Achilles Tendinitis – Fibers that are located in the middle portion of the tendon began to develop small tears that cause swelling and thickening. This type of tendinitis is usually found in younger people who are very active. Insertional Achilles Tendinitis – Develops where the tendon attaches to the heel bone in the lower part of the heel. Extra bone growth also called bone spurs form because of this tendinitis and can affect patients at any time, even if they are not active.


Causes

Sometimes Achilles Tendinitis is a result of sudden trauma, as you might encounter from playing sports, but you can also have Achilles tendon pain as a result of small, unnoticed, day-to-day irritations that inflame the tendon over time by a cumulative effect. In those with no history of trauma, Achilles Tendonitis is sometimes associated simply with long periods of standing. There are several factors that can cause the gradual development of Achilles Tendinitis. Improper shoe selection, particularly using high heels over many years, increases your odds of developing the condition. This is because high-heeled shoes cause your calf muscles to contract, leaving the tendon with a lot less slack in it. Inadequate stretching before engaging in athletic or other physically-demanding activities also predisposes you to develop the problem. This is especially true in “weekend athletes”, individuals who tend to partake in excessive physical activities on an intermittent basis. Biomechanical abnormalities like excessive pronation (too much flattening of the arch) also tends to cause this condition. And it is much more common individuals with equinus. It is more common in the middle-aged, the out-of-shape, smokers, and in those who use steroids. Men get the condition more frequently than women. Those involved in jumping and high-impact sports are particularly vulnerable.


Symptoms

The primary symptom of Achilles tendon inflammation is pain in the back of the heel, which initially increases when exercise is begun and often lessens as exercise continues. A complete tear of the Achilles tendon typically occurs with a sudden forceful change in direction when running or playing tennis and is often accompanied by a sensation of having been struck in the back of the ankle and calf with an object such as a baseball bat.


Diagnosis

When diagnosing Achilles tendinitis, a doctor will ask the patient a few questions about their symptoms and then perform a physical examination. To perform a physical exam on the Achilles tendon, the doctor will lightly touch around the back of the ankle and tendon to locate the source of the pain or inflammation. They will also test the foot and ankle to see if their range of motion and flexibility has been impaired. The doctor might also order an imaging test to be done on the tendon. This will aid in the elimination of other possible causes of pain and swelling, and may help the doctor assess the level of damage (if any) that has been done to the tendon. Types of imaging tests that could be used for diagnosing Achilles tendinitis are MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging), X-ray, Ultrasound.


Nonsurgical Treatment

Supportive shoes and orthotics. Pain from insertional Achilles tendinitis is often helped by certain shoes, as well as orthotic devices. For example, shoes that are softer at the back of the heel can reduce irritation of the tendon. In addition, heel lifts can take some strain off the tendon. Heel lifts are also very helpful for patients with insertional tendinitis because they can move the heel away from the back of the shoe, where rubbing can occur. They also take some strain off the tendon. Like a heel lift, a silicone Achilles sleeve can reduce irritation from the back of a shoe. If your pain is severe, your doctor may recommend a walking boot for a short time. This gives the tendon a chance to rest before any therapy is begun. Extended use of a boot is discouraged, though, because it can weaken your calf muscle. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT). During this procedure, high-energy shockwave impulses stimulate the healing process in damaged tendon tissue. ESWT has not shown consistent results and, therefore, is not commonly performed. ESWT is noninvasive-it does not require a surgical incision. Because of the minimal risk involved, ESWT is sometimes tried before surgery is considered.

Achilles Tendinitis


Surgical Treatment

Surgery should be considered to relieve Achilles tendinitis only if the pain does not improve after 6 months of nonsurgical treatment. The specific type of surgery depends on the location of the tendinitis and the amount of damage to the tendon. Gastrocnemius recession. This is a surgical lengthening of the calf (gastrocnemius) muscles. Because tight calf muscles place increased stress on the Achilles tendon, this procedure is useful for patients who still have difficulty flexing their feet, despite consistent stretching. In gastrocnemius recession, one of the two muscles that make up the calf is lengthened to increase the motion of the ankle. The procedure can be performed with a traditional, open incision or with a smaller incision and an endoscope-an instrument that contains a small camera. Your doctor will discuss the procedure that best meets your needs. Complication rates for gastrocnemius recession are low, but can include nerve damage. Gastrocnemius recession can be performed with or without d?bridement, which is removal of damaged tissue. D?bridement and repair (tendon has less than 50% damage). The goal of this operation is to remove the damaged part of the Achilles tendon. Once the unhealthy portion of the tendon has been removed, the remaining tendon is repaired with sutures, or stitches to complete the repair. In insertional tendinitis, the bone spur is also removed. Repair of the tendon in these instances may require the use of metal or plastic anchors to help hold the Achilles tendon to the heel bone, where it attaches. After d?bridement and repair, most patients are allowed to walk in a removable boot or cast within 2 weeks, although this period depends upon the amount of damage to the tendon. D?bridement with tendon transfer (tendon has greater than 50% damage). In cases where more than 50% of the Achilles tendon is not healthy and requires removal, the remaining portion of the tendon is not strong enough to function alone. To prevent the remaining tendon from rupturing with activity, an Achilles tendon transfer is performed. The tendon that helps the big toe point down is moved to the heel bone to add strength to the damaged tendon. Although this sounds severe, the big toe will still be able to move, and most patients will not notice a change in the way they walk or run. Depending on the extent of damage to the tendon, some patients may not be able to return to competitive sports or running. Recovery. Most patients have good results from surgery. The main factor in surgical recovery is the amount of damage to the tendon. The greater the amount of tendon involved, the longer the recovery period, and the less likely a patient will be able to return to sports activity. Physical therapy is an important part of recovery. Many patients require 12 months of rehabilitation before they are pain-free.


Prevention

Suggestions to reduce your risk of Achilles tendonitis include, icorporate stretching into your warm-up and cool-down routines. Maintaining an adequate level of fitness for your sport. Avoid dramatic increases in sports training. If you experience pain in your Achilles tendon, rest the area. Trying to ?work through? the pain will only make your injury worse. Wear good quality supportive shoes appropriate to your sport. If there is foot deformity or flattening, obtain orthoses. Avoid wearing high heels on a regular basis. Maintaining your foot in a ?tiptoe? position shortens your calf muscles and reduces the flexibility of your Achilles tendon. An inflexible Achilles tendon is more susceptible to injury. Maintain a normal healthy weight.