You can feel your Achilles tendon beneath the skin on the back of your ankle. It is a fibrous band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone (calcaneus), which allows you to lift your heel off the ground. Most commonly an overuse injury, the term Achilles tendinitis commonly refers to, acute inflammation in the sheath surrounding your tendon, chronic damage to the tendon itself, called tendinosis, a combination of the two. Achilles tendinitis can range from mild inflammation to, in rare cases, a tendon rupture. One type of tendinitis, called insertional Achilles tendinitis, can affect the end of the tendon where it attaches to your heel bone. Achilles tendinitis also can be associated with other foot problems, such as painful flat feet.
The two most common causes of Achilles tendonitis are Lack of flexibility and Overpronation. Other factors associated with Achilles tendonitis are recent changes in footwear, and changes in exercise training schedules. Often long distance runners will have symptoms of Achilles tendonitis after increasing their mileage or increasing the amount of hill training they are doing. As people age, tendons, like other tissues in the body, become less flexible, more rigid, and more susceptible to injury. Therefore, middle-age recreational athletes are most susceptible to Achilles tendonitis.
The main symptom of Achilles tendonitis is a feeling of pain and swelling in your heel as you walk or run. Other symptoms include tight calf muscles and limited range of motion when flexing the foot. This condition can also make the skin in your heel feel overly warm to the touch.
Your physiotherapist or sports doctor can usually confirm the diagnosis of Achilles tendonitis in the clinic. They will base their diagnosis on your history, symptom behaviour and clinical tests. Achilles tendons will often have a painful and prominent lump within the tendon. Further investigations include US scan or MRI. X-rays are of little use in the diagnosis.
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 tendon repair surgery is often used to repair a ruptured or torn Achilles tendon, the strong fibrous cord that connects the two large muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. These muscles (the gastrocnemius and the soleus) create the power needed to push off with your foot or rise up on your toes. Achilles tendon ruptures are quite common. Most happen during recreational activities that require sudden bursts of muscle power in the legs. Often a torn Achilles tendon can be diagnosed with a physical examination. If swelling is present, the orthopaedist may delay the Achilles tendon surgery until it subsides.
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.