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Achilles Tendinitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendinitisTendinitis is the inflammation of a tendon. Tendons are thick cords of tissue that connect muscles to bone. Achilles tendinitis, or an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, is one of the most common causes of foot or ankle pain. Other types of foot/ankle tendinitis include posterior tibial tendinitis and peroneal tendinitis.

Causes

Unusual use or overuse of the lower leg muscles and Achilles tendon is usually the cause of Achilles tendinitis. Repetitive jumping, kicking, and sprinting can lead to Achilles tendinitis in both recreational and competitive athletes. Runners, dancers, and athletes over age 65 are especially at risk. Sudden increases in training or competition can also inflame your Achilles tendon. For example, adding hills, stair-climbing, or sprinting to your running workout puts extra stress on your Achilles tendon. Improper technique during training can also strain the tendon. Intense running or jumping without stretching and strengthening your lower leg muscles can put you at risk regardless of your age or fitness level. Running on tight, exhausted, or fatigued calf muscles can put added stress on your Achilles tendon, as your tendon may not be ready to quickly start a workout after a period of inactivity. Direct blows or other injuries to the ankle, foot, or lower leg may pull your Achilles tendon too far and stretch the tissue. A hard contraction of the calf muscles, such as can happen when you push for the final sprint in a race, can strain the tendon. People whose feet roll inward, a condition called overpronation, are particularly at risk. Sometimes, shoes with too much heel cushioning put extra strain on the Achilles tendon.

Symptoms

In most cases, symptoms of Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis, develop gradually. Pain may be mild at first and worsen with continued activity. Repeated or continued stress on the Achilles tendon increases inflammation and may cause it to rupture. Partial or complete rupture results in traumatic damage and severe pain, making walking virtually impossible and requiring a long recovery period. Patients with tendinosis may experience a sensation of fullness in the back of the lower leg or develop a hard knot of tissue (nodule).

Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor will gently press on the affected area to determine the location of pain, tenderness or swelling. He or she will also evaluate the flexibility, alignment, range of motion and reflexes of your foot and ankle. Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests to assess your condition, X-rays. While X-rays can't visualize soft tissues such as tendons, they may help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Ultrasound. This device uses sound waves to visualize soft tissues like tendons. Ultrasound can also produce real-time images of the Achilles tendon in motion. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and a very strong magnet, MRI machines can produce very detailed images of the Achilles tendon.

Nonsurgical Treatment

NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Steroid injections. Steroids decrease pain and swelling. After you get this shot, you may feel like your Achilles tendon is healed. Do not return to your regular exercise until your caregiver says it is okay. You could make the tendinitis worse, or even tear the tendon. Surgery. If your tendinitis does not heal with other treatments, you may need surgery. Surgery may be done to repair a tear in the tendon, or to remove parts of the tendon. The most important way to manage Achilles tendinitis is to rest. Rest decreases swelling and keeps your tendinitis from getting worse. You may feel pain when you begin to run or exercise. The pain usually goes away as your muscles warm up, but it may come back. Your caregiver may tell you to stop your usual training or exercise activities. He may give you other exercises to do until your Achilles tendon heals. Ice decreases swelling and pain. Put ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Put this on your Achilles tendon for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day. Do this for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away. After 2 or 3 days, you may use heat to decrease pain and stiffness. Use a hot water bottle, heating pad, whirlpool, or warm compress. To make a compress, soak a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring out the extra water and put it on your Achilles tendon 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day. Stretching and making the muscles stronger may help decrease stress on your Achilles tendon. Physical therapists can teach you exercises and treatments to help your tendinitis heal faster. You may need to wear inserts in your shoes. You may need to wrap tape around your heel and back of the leg. You may need to wear a cast, brace, or support boot.

Achilles Tendon

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is considered when non-operative measures fail. Patient compliance and postoperative management is an important aspect of the operative management to prevent ankle stiffness or recurrence of the symptoms. Surgery usually requires a removal of the damaged tissue (debridement) and meticulous repair of the tendon. Post-operative immobilization is required, followed by gradual range of motion and strengthening exercises start. It may require 6 months for the full recovery. Some known complication are recurrence, stiffness of the ankle and deep vein thrombosis.

Prevention

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of Achilles tendinitis, warm up every time before you exercise or play a sport. Switch up your exercises. Slowly increase the length and intensity of your workouts. Keep your muscles active and stay in shape all year-round. When you see symptoms of Achilles tendinitis, stop whatever activity you are doing and rest.

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