The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. Tendons are long, tough cords of tissue that connect muscle to bone. The Achilles tendon is located in the back of the foot and connects your heel bone to your calf muscle. It helps you to walk, run and jump. The Achilles tendon is able to endure stress, but sometimes injury can occur to the tendon when overly stressed. Overuse of the Achilles tendon may cause the tendon to swell, become irritated, inflamed and cause pain. This is Achilles tendinitis. It is a common sports injury related to running, but can happen to anyone who puts a lot of stress on their feet (e.g.: basketball players and dancers). If you do not get treatment for Achilles tendinitis, the problem can become chronic and make it difficult for you to walk.
When you place a large amount of stress on your Achilles tendon too quickly, it can become inflamed from tiny tears that occur during the activity. Achilles tendonitis is often a result of overtraining, or doing too much too soon. Excessive hill running can contribute to it. Flattening of the arch of your foot can place you at increased risk of developing Achilles tendonitis because of the extra stress placed on your Achilles tendon when walking or running.
People with Achilles tendinitis may experience pain during and after exercising. Running and jumping activities become painful and difficult. Symptoms include stiffness and pain in the back of the ankle when pushing off the ball of the foot. For patients with chronic tendinitis (longer than six weeks), x-rays may reveal calcification (hardening of the tissue) in the tendon. Chronic tendinitis can result in a breakdown of the tendon, or tendinosis, which weakens the tendon and may cause a rupture.
The diagnosis is made via discussion with your doctor and physical examination. Typically, imaging studies are not needed to make the diagnosis. However, in some cases, an ultrasound is useful in looking for evidence of degenerative changes in the tendon and to rule out tendon rupture. An MRI can be used for similar purposes, as well. Your physician will determine whether or not further studies are necessary.
Achilles tendonitis will often respond to rest or changes in activity, stretching, or ice after activity. Non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen may also help. Physical therapy focusing on stretching and strengthening, massage, alternating hot and cold baths, and ultrasound or sound waves can also help with healing and comfort. The temporary use of a heel lift or the insertion of an arch support, called an orthotic, into the shoe or sneaker can also help. Although seldom necessary, the ankle may be kept in a short leg cast or splint. Surgery is rarely needed but can remove bone spurs or the bony prominence of the heel bone. The injection of corticosteroids such as cortisone into the area of the Achilles tendon is usually avoided because it may cause the tendon to rupture.
Surgery for an Achilles tendon rupture can be done with a single large incision, which is called open surgery. Or it can be done with several small incisions. This is called percutaneous surgery. The differences in age and activity levels of people who get surgery can make it hard to know if Achilles tendon surgery is effective. The success of your surgery can depend on, your surgeon's experience. The type of surgery you have. How damaged the tendon is. How soon after rupture the surgery is done. How soon you start your rehab program after surgery. How well you follow your rehab program. Talk to your surgeon about his or her surgical experience. Ask about his or her success rate with the technique that would best treat your condition.
To prevent Achilles tendonitis or tendonosis from recurring after surgical or non-surgical treatment, the foot and ankle surgeon may recommend strengthening and stretching of the calf muscles through daily exercises. Wearing proper shoes for the foot type and activity is also important in preventing recurrence of the condition.