Achilles Tendinitis The Facts

Overview


Achilles TendonitisThe Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in your body, connecting your calf muscles to the back of your heel. Virtually all of the force generated when you ?toe off? the ground during running is transmitted by the Achilles, and this force can be as much as three times your body weight. And the faster you run, the more strain you put on the Achilles tendon. As such, it?s prone to injury in many runners, but particularly those who do a lot of fast training, uphill running, or use a forefoot-striking style. Achilles tendon injuries account for 5-12% of all running injuries, and occur disproportionately in men. This may be because of the faster absolute speeds men tend to train at, or may be due to other biomechanical factors.


Causes


There are hundreds of tendons scattered throughout our body, but it tends to be a small handful of specific tendons that cause problems. These tendons usually have an area of poor blood supply that leads to tissue damage and poor healing response. This area of a tendon that is prone to injury is called a "watershed zone," an area when the blood supply to the tendon is weakest. In these watershed zones, they body has a hard time delivering oxygen and nutrients necessary for tendon healing, that's why we see common tendon problems in the same parts of the body. Tendonitis is most often an overuse injury. Often people begin a new activity or exercise that causes the tendon to become irritated. Tendon problems are most common in the 40-60 year old age range. Tendons are not as elastic and forgiving as in younger individuals, yet bodies are still exerting with the same force. Occasionally, there is an anatomical cause for tendonitis. If the tendon does not have a smooth path to glide along, it will be more likely to become irritated and inflamed. In these unusual situations, surgical treatment may be necessary to realign the tendon.


Symptoms


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.


Diagnosis


To diagnose the condition correctly, your doctor will ask you a few questions about the pain and swelling in your heel. You may be asked to stand on the balls of your feet while your doctor observes your range of motion and flexibility. The doctor may also touch the area directly. This allows him to pinpoint where the pain and swelling is most severe.


Nonsurgical Treatment


The aim of the treatment is to reduce strain on the tendon and reduce inflammation. Strain may be reduced by, avoiding or severely limiting activities that may aggravate the condition, such as running, using shoe inserts (orthoses) to take pressure off the tendon as it heals. In cases of flat or hyperpronated feet, your doctor or podiatrist may recommend long-term use of orthoses. I8nflammation may be reduced by, applying icepacks for 20 minutes per hour during the acute stage, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, placing the foot in a cast or restrictive ankle-boot to minimise movement and give the tendon time to heal. This may be recommended in severe cases and used for about eight weeks. Occasionally depot (slowly absorbed) steroid injections may be tried, particularly for peri-tendinitis, but great care needs to be taken to avoid injecting into the tendon. This should only be done by a specialist doctor. You may also be given specific exercises to gently stretch the calf muscles once the acute stage of inflammation has settled down. Your doctor or physiotherapist will recommend these exercises when you are on the road to recovery. Recovery is often slow and will depend on the severity of the condition and how carefully you follow the treatment and care instructions you are given.


Achilles Tendinitis


Surgical Treatment


There are three common procedures that doctor preform in order help heal the tendinitis depending on the location of the tendinitis and amount of damage to the tendon, including: Gastrocnemius recession - With this surgery doctors lengthen the calf muscles because the tight muscles increases stress on the Achilles tendon. The procedure is typically done on people who have difficulty flexing their feet even with constant stretching. Debridement and Repair - When there is less than 50% damage in the tendon, it is possible for doctors to remove the injured parts and repair the healthy portions. This surgery is most done for patients who are suffering from bone spurs or arthritis. To repair the tendon doctors may use metal or plastic anchors to help hold the Achilles tendon in place. Patients have to wear a boot or cast for 2 weeks or more, depending and the damage done to the tendon. Debridement with Tendon Transfer - When there is more the 50% damage done to the Achilles tendon, and Achilles tendon transfer is preformed because the remain healthy tissue is not strong enough. The tendon that helps the big toe move is attached to give added strength to the damaged Achilles. After surgery, most patients don?t notice any difference when they walk or run.


Prevention


Do strengthening and stretching exercises to keep calf muscles strong and flexible. Keep your hamstring muscles flexible by stretching. Warm up and stretch adequately before participating in any sports. Always increase the intensity and duration of training gradually. Do not continue an exercise if you experience pain over the tendon. Wear properly fitted running and other sports shoes, including properly fitted arch supports if your feet roll inwards excessively (over-pronate).

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