All About Achilles Tendonitis

Overview


Achilles TendonAchilles tendinitis is an overuse injury of the Achilles (uh-KIL-eez) tendon, the band of tissue that connects calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to your heel bone. Under too much stress, the tendon tightens and is forced to work too hard. This causes it to become inflamed (that?s Achilles tendinitis), and, over time, can produce a covering of scar tissue, which is less flexible than the tendon. If the inflamed Achilles continues to be stressed, it can tear or rupture. Achilles tendinitis most commonly occurs in runners who have suddenly increased the intensity or duration of their runs. It?s also common in middle-aged people who play sports, such as tennis or basketball, only on the weekends. Most cases of Achilles tendinitis can be treated with relatively simple, at-home care under your doctor?s supervision. Self-care strategies are usually necessary to prevent recurring episodes. More-serious cases of Achilles tendinitis can lead to tendon tears (ruptures) that may require surgical repair.


Causes


Some of the causes of Achilles tendonitis include, overuse injury - this occurs when the Achilles tendon is stressed until it develops small tears. Runners seem to be the most susceptible. People who play sports that involve jumping, such as basketball, are also at increased risk. Arthritis - Achilles tendonitis can be a part of generalised inflammatory arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis. In these conditions, both tendons can be affected. Foot problems - some people with flat feet or hyperpronated feet (feet that turn inward while walking) are prone to Achilles tendonitis. The flattened arch pulls on calf muscles and keeps the Achilles tendon under tight strain. This constant mechanical stress on the heel and tendon can cause inflammation, pain and swelling of the tendon. Being overweight can make the problem worse. Footwear - wearing shoes with minimal support while walking or running can increase the risk, as can wearing high heels. Overweight and obesity - being overweight places more strain on many parts of the body, including the Achilles tendon. Quinolone antibiotics - can in some instances be associated with inflammatory tenosynovitis and, if present, will often be bilateral (both Achilles), coming on soon after exposure to the drug.


Symptoms


Recurring localized pain, sometimes severe, along the tendon during or a few hours after running. Morning tenderness about an inch and a half above the point where the Achilles tendon is attached to the heel bone. Sluggishness in your leg. Mild or severe swelling. Stiffness that generally diminishes as the tendon warms up with use.


Diagnosis


The doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor will look for tenderness along the tendon and pain in the area of the tendon when you stand on your toes. X-rays can help diagnose bone problems. An MRI scan may be done if your doctor is thinking about surgery or is worried about the tear in the Achilles tendon.


Nonsurgical Treatment


Treatment for achilles tendonitis is based around initially reducing pain and inflammation, stretching the muscles out and a gradual return to activity. No one single approach may cure achilles tendonitis, particularly a chronic condition but a combination of treatment approaches and patience will work best. It is essential the correct treatment is started as soon as possible in the acute stage to avoid the injury becoming chronic. Acute achilles tendonitis requires rest. Continuing to train on a painful achilles tendon could lead to the injury becoming chronic and more difficult to treat. Applying ice or cold therapy as soon as possible to a painful achilles tendon will reduce pain and inflammation. After the first 24 to 48 hours alternating hot and cold or just heat may be more beneficial. Tendons work better when they are warm but if they are painful then rest and ice. Wear a heel pad to raise the heel and shorten the calf muscles which in turn reduces some of the strain on the achilles tendon. This should only be a temporary measure while the achilles tendon is healing. An achilles tendon taping technique can aid rest by supporting the tendon with elastic bandages. This is an excellent way of taking the load off the tendon if you have to walk around on your feet as well as protecting the tendon when returning to full fitness. Achilles tendon exercisesMake sure you have the right running shoes for your foot type and the sport. If you are a runner that over-pronates then a motion control or support running shoe may be needed. Visit a specialist running shop for advice. In the later stages apply heat, especially before exercise. The tendon will perform better when warm. Finish with cold after training to reduce any inflammation.


Achilles Tendonitis


Surgical Treatment


Surgery for an acute Achilles tendon tear is seemingly straightforward. The ends of the torn tendon are surgically exposed and sutures are used to tie the ends together. The sutures used to tie together the torn tendon ends are thick and strong, and are woven into the Achilles both above and below the tear. While the concepts of surgery are straightforward, the execution is more complex. Care must be taken to ensure the tendon is repaired with the proper tension -- not too tight or too loose. The skin must be taken care of, as excessive handling of the soft tissues can cause severe problems including infection and skin necrosis. Nerves are located just adjacent to the tendon, and must be protected to prevent nerve injury. If surgery is decided upon, it is usually performed within days or weeks of the injury. The idea is to perform the repair before scar tissue has formed, which would make the repair more difficult. Some surgeons may recommend delaying surgery a few days from the initial injury to allow swelling to subside before proceeding with the repair.


Prevention


Stretching of the gastrocnemius (keep knee straight) and soleus (keep knee bent) muscles. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, relax slowly. Repeat stretches 2 - 3 times per day. Remember to stretch well before running strengthening of foot and calf muscles (eg, heel raises) correct shoes, specifically motion-control shoes and orthotics to correct overpronation. Gradual progression of training programme. Avoid excessive hill training. Incorporate rest into training programme.

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Ozie Hisman

Author:Ozie Hisman
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