Achilles Tendinitis is the inflammation of the Achilles Tendon located in the heel, and is typically caused by overuse of the affected limb. Most often, it occurs in athletes who are not training with the proper techniques and/or equipment. When the Achilles Tendon is injured, blood vessels and nerve fibers from surrounding areas migrate into the tendon, and the nerve fibers may be responsible for the discomfort. Healing is often slow in this area due to the comparably low amount of cellular activity and blood flowing through the area.
The cause of paratenonitis is not well understood although there is a correlation with a recent increase in the intensity of running or jumping workouts. It can be associated with repetitive activities which overload the tendon structure, postural problems such as flatfoot or high-arched foot, or footwear and training issues such as running on uneven or excessively hard ground or running on slanted surfaces. Tendinosis is also associated with the aging process.
Achilles tendonitis and tendinopathy present as pain in the Achilles tendon, usually several centimeters above where it inserts on the heel. In some patients, pain and tendon damage are primarily at the insertion to the heel bone. There may be swelling and/or thickening of the tendon. Bending at the ankle, walking, jumping, and running are often painful with this condition.
To confirm the diagnosis and consider what might be causing the problem, it?s important to see your doctor or a physiotherapist. Methods used to make a diagnosis may include, medical history, including your exercise habits and footwear, physical examination, especially examining for thickness and tenderness of the Achilles tendon, tests that may include an x-ray of the foot, ultrasound and occasionally blood tests (to test for an inflammatory condition), and an MRI scan of the tendon.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. In general terms, the longer the symptoms are present before treatment begins, the longer the timeframe until complete recovery is achieved. Complete recovery can take between three and nine months. Initial treatment of Achilles tendonitis includes, Rest, to avoid further injury to the area. Ice, to reduce inflammation, Elevation, to reduce swelling. Bandaging or strapping, to support the area and restrict movement of the tendon. Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and inflammation. (Cortisone (steroid) injections to reduce inflammation are not usually recommended as they may weaken the tendon and increase the risk of rupture). Other treatments include, Physiotherapy, Physiotherapy plays an important role in the treatment of Achilles tendonitis. This generally focuses on two main areas – treatment and rehabilitation. Treatment may involve such techniques as massage, ultrasound, acupuncture and gentle stretching. Rehabilitation involves the development of an individualised recovery programme, the most important aspect of which is strengthening. Strengthening of the muscles surrounding the Achilles tendon helps to promote healing in the tendon itself. Strengthening is achieved through the use of specific exercises, which will be taught by the physiotherapist. One such exercise is eccentric loading, which involves contracting the calf muscle while it is being stretched. It is common for the rehabilitation programme to take up to three months. Podiatry, including gait analysis and the fitting of orthotic devices to support the foot and reduce stress on the tendon, may be recommended. For cases of Achilles tendonitis that do not respond to initial treatment, casting or splinting of the affected foot may be recommended to allow it to rest completely.
Surgery for an acute Achilles tendon tear is seemingly straightforward. The ends of the torn tendon are surgically exposed and sutures are used to tie the ends together. The sutures used to tie together the torn tendon ends are thick and strong, and are woven into the Achilles both above and below the tear. While the concepts of surgery are straightforward, the execution is more complex. Care must be taken to ensure the tendon is repaired with the proper tension — not too tight or too loose. The skin must be taken care of, as excessive handling of the soft tissues can cause severe problems including infection and skin necrosis. Nerves are located just adjacent to the tendon, and must be protected to prevent nerve injury. If surgery is decided upon, it is usually performed within days or weeks of the injury. The idea is to perform the repair before scar tissue has formed, which would make the repair more difficult. Some surgeons may recommend delaying surgery a few days from the initial injury to allow swelling to subside before proceeding with the repair.
The following measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis. Adequately stretch and warm up prior to exercise. Warm down and stretch after exercise. Choose footwear carefully and use footwear appropriate to the sport being undertaken. Use orthotic devices in footwear to correctly support the foot. Exercise within fitness levels and follow a sensible exercise programme. Develop strong, flexible calf muscles.