Achilles tendinitis. Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the largest tendon in the body, which runs from the calf to the heel bone. Noninsertional Achilles tendonitis affects fibers in the middle of the tendon. Insertional Achilles tendonitis affects the lower portion of the tendon where it attaches to the heel bone. Both types can result from repetitive stress to the tendon or from overstressing the tendon during exercise. Damaged tendon fibers can calcify and bone spurs can form where the tendon attaches to the bone. Symptoms may include pain and stiffness of the tendon – which may occur from either inactivity (such as first thing in the morning) or after activity – thickening or swelling of the tendon or bone spurs.
Achilles tendonitis occurs in sports such as running, jumping, dancing and tennis. Other risk factors include participation in a new sporting activity or increasing the intensity of participation. Poor running technique, excessive pronation of the foot and poorly fitting footwear may contribute. In cyclists, the problem may be a low saddle, which causes extra dorsiflexion of the ankle when pedalling. Quinolone antibiotics (eg, ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin) can cause inflammation of tendons and predispose them to rupture.
Gradual onset of pain and stiffness over the tendon, which may improve with heat or walking and worsen with strenuous activity. Tenderness of the tendon on palpation. There may also be crepitus and swelling. Pain on active movement of the ankle joint. Ultrasound or MRI may be necessary to differentiate tendonitis from a partial tendon rupture.
Confirming Achilles tendonitis may involve imaging tests. X-rays provide images of the bones of the foot and leg. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is useful for detecting ruptures and degeneration of tissue. Ultrasound shows tendon movement, related damage, and inflammation.
Your podiatrist may recommend one or more of these treatments to manage your pain. A bandage specifically designed to restrict motion of the tendon. Over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen). Custom orthotic shoe inserts to relieve stress on the tendon. Rest. Switching to a low impact exercise such as swimming, that does not stress the tendon. Stretching, massage, ultrasound and appropriate exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the achilles tendon. In extreme cases, surgery is necessary to remove the damaged tissue and repair any tears.
Surgery is an option of last resort. However, if friction between the tendon and its covering sheath makes the sheath thick and fibrous, surgery to remove the fibrous tissue and repair any tears may be the best treatment option.
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.