Achilles tendinitis is an uncomfortable condition where a person?s large tendon in the back of their ankle becomes irritated and inflamed. It is a very common type of injury, most often seen in recreational athletes. This makes sense because recreational athletes still play hard at their sports, but don?t have the full knowledge or training that comes with being a professional to prevent injuries. Achilles tendon pain is not something to be taken lightly, so if you are aware of your own, you should definitely seek some medical advice.
The Achilles tendon is a strong band of connective tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. When the muscle contracts, the tendon transmits the power of this contraction to the heel, producing movement. The Achilles tendon moves through a protective sheath and is made up of thousands of tiny fibres. It is thought that Achilles tendonitis develops when overuse of the tendon causes the tiny fibres that make up the tendon to tear. This causes inflammation, pain and swelling. As the tendon swells it can begin to rub against the sheath surrounding it, irritating the sheath and causing it too to become inflamed and swollen. It has a poor blood supply, which can make it susceptible to injury and can make recovery from injury slow. Factors that can lead to the development of Achilles tendonitis include, tight or weak calf muscles, rapidly increasing the amount or intensity of exercise. Hill climbing or stair climbing exercises. Changes in footwear, particularly changing from wearing high-heeled shoes to wearing flat shoes. Wearing inadequate or inappropriate shoes for the sporting activity being undertaken. Not adequately warming up and stretching prior to exercise. A sudden sharp movement that causes the calf muscles to contract and the stress on the Achilles tendon to be increased. This can cause the tendon fibres to tear.
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.
Laboratory studies usually are not necessary in evaluating and diagnosing an Achilles tendon rupture or injury, although evaluation may help to rule out some of the other possibilities in the differential diagnosis. Imaging studies. Plain radiography: Radiographs are more useful for ruling out other injuries than for ruling in Achilles tendon ruptures. Ultrasonography: Ultrasonography of the leg and thigh can help to evaluate the possibility of deep venous thrombosis and also can be used to rule out a Baker cyst; in experienced hands, ultrasonography can identify a ruptured Achilles tendon or the signs of tendinosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI can facilitate definitive diagnosis of a disrupted tendon and can be used to distinguish between paratenonitis, tendinosis, and bursitis.
Conservative management of Achilles tendinosis and paratenonitis includes the following. Physical therapy. Eccentric exercises are the cornerstone of strengthening treatment, with most patients achieving 60-90% pain relief. Orthotic therapy in Achilles tendinosis consists of the use of heel lifts. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Tendinosis tends to be less responsive than paratenonitis to NSAIDs. Steroid injections. Although these provide short-term relief of painful symptoms, there is concern that they can weaken the tendon, leading to rupture. Vessel sclerosis. Platelet-rich plasma injections. Nitric oxide. Shock-wave therapy. Surgery may also be used in the treatment of Achilles tendinosis and paratenonitis. In paratenonitis, fibrotic adhesions and nodules are excised, freeing up the tendon. Longitudinal tenotomies may be performed to decompress the tendon. Satisfactory results have been obtained in 75-100% of cases. In tendinosis, in addition to the above procedures, the degenerated portions of the tendon and any osteophytes are excised. Haglund?s deformity, if present, is removed. If the remaining tendon is too thin and weak, the plantaris or flexor hallucis longus tendon can be weaved through the Achilles tendon to provide more strength. The outcome is generally less favorable than it is in paratenonitis surgery.
Percutaneous Achilles Tendon Surgery. During this procedure the surgeon will make 3 to 4 incisions (approx. 2.5 cm long) on both sides of the Achilles tendon. Small forceps are used to free the tendon sheath (the soft tissue casing around your Achilles tendon) to make room for the surgeon to stitch/suture any tears. Skilled surgeons may perform a percutaneous achilles tendon surgery with ultrasound imaging techniques to allow for blink suturing with stab incisions made by a surgical suture needle. This procedure can be done in 3 different ways depending on the preference and experience of your surgeon. Instead of making several 2.5 cm incisions for this procedure, some surgeons will use guided imaging with an ultrasound to see the Achilles tendon tissue without having to open up your ankle. For this technique, they will use a surgical needle to repeatedly stab your Achilles tendon. These "stab incisions" will allow the surgeon to "blindly" suture your tendon without seeing the actual tissue. As another option - some surgeons will only make 1 to 3 incisions for smaller surgical implements to repair your tendon while relying on imaging ultrasound to see your damaged tissue. During either procedure the use of ultrasound imaging or endoscopic techniques requires a very skilled surgeon.
Achilles tendinitis cannot always be prevented but the following tips will help you reduce your risk. If you are new to a sport, gradually ramp up your activity level to your desired intensity and duration. If you experience pain while exercising, stop. Avoid strenuous activity that puts excessive stress on your Achilles tendon. If you have a demanding workout planned, warm up slowly and thoroughly. Always exercise in shoes that are in good condition and appropriate for your activity or sport. Be sure to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon before and after working out. If you suffer from Achilles tendinitis make sure you treat it properly and promptly. If self-care techniques don?t work, don?t delay. Book a consultation with a foot care expert or you may find yourself sidelined from your favourite sports and activities.