The Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, can withstand significant pressure from physical activities. Achilles tendinitis is estimated to account for approximately 11 percent of all running injuries, as the Achilles tendon provides the momentum to push off to walk or run. Achilles tendinitis, also called Achilles tendinopathy, results from overuse, injury or disease of the Achilles tendon, which causes the area to become inflamed. There are two types of Achilles tendinitis: Non-insertional Achilles Tendinitis – Fibers that are located in the middle portion of the tendon began to develop small tears that cause swelling and thickening. This type of tendinitis is usually found in younger people who are very active. Insertional Achilles Tendinitis – Develops where the tendon attaches to the heel bone in the lower part of the heel. Extra bone growth also called bone spurs form because of this tendinitis and can affect patients at any time, even if they are not active.
There are a number of ways a person can develop Achilles tendinitis. Some causes are easier to avoid than others, but being aware of them can aid earlier diagnosis and help prevent serious injury. Causes of Achilles tendinitis include, using incorrect or worn out shoes when running or exercising. Not warming up properly before exercise. Increasing intensity of exercise too quickly (e.g. running speed or distance covered). Prematurely introducing hill running or stair climbing to exercise routine. Running on hard or uneven surfaces. Calf muscle is injured or has little flexibility (this puts a lot of strain on the Achilles tendon). Sudden intense physical activity such as sprinting for the finish line. Achilles tendinitis can also be caused by differences in foot, leg or ankle anatomy. For example, some people can have flatness in their foot where there would normally be an arch; this puts more strain on the tendon. The FDA has asked that a boxed warning be added to the prescribing information for fluoroquinolone antibiotics. Patients taking these drugs may experience an increased risk of tendinitis and tendon rupture. Fluoroquinolones include Cipro (ciprofloxacin), Factive (gemifloxacin), Levaquin (levofloxacin), Avelox (moxifloxacin), Noroxin (norfloxacin), Floxin (ofloxacin) and Proquin (ciprofloxacin hydrochloride). It is important to remember that the risk for injury is not necessarily gone when the drug is stopped. Cases have been reported in which tendon problems occurred up to several months after the drug was discontinued.
Most cases of Achilles tendonitis start out slowly, with very little pain, and then grow worse over time. Some of the more common symptoms include mild pain or an ache above the heel and in the lower leg, especially after running or doing other physical activities, pain that gets worse when walking uphill, climbing stairs, or taking part in intense or prolonged exercise, stiffness and tenderness in the heel, especially in the morning, that gradually goes away, swelling or hard knots of tissue in the Achilles tendon, a creaking or crackling sound when moving the ankle or pressing on the Achilles tendon, weakness in the affected leg.
In diagnosing Achilles tendonitis or tendonosis, the surgeon will examine the patient?s foot and ankle and evaluate the range of motion and condition of the tendon. The extent of the condition can be further assessed with x-rays or other imaging modalities.
Achilles tendinitis can typically be treated at home by following the R.I.C.E. treatment method. Rest. Rest the tendon by avoiding activities that irritate the tendon or increase swelling. However, this does not mean you should be completely inactive for long periods of time, as this can cause stiffness in your joints. It?s still important to stretch in order to maintain strength and flexibility and partake in activities that don?t put direct pressure on the tendon, such as bicycling. Ice. Apply ice to the affected area for 20-minutes at a time, every couple hours, as needed, to reduce swelling and pain. Compression. Use compression bandages to help reduce swelling. Elevation. Elevate your ankle above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. It is particularly important to do this at night while you sleep. Simply place a pillow or two under your ankle to keep it elevated. Once the tendon has healed, be sure to gradually return to more strenuous activities. If flattened arches contributed to the injury, wear shoes with appropriate support or inserts to prevent the condition from progressing or recurring. If these non-surgical treatments have not been able to provide relief of symptoms after several months, surgery may be performed to remove inflamed tissue. However, this is not usually recommended unless all other options have been exhausted. Consult your doctor for more information about surgical treatment options.
If non-surgical treatment fails to cure the condition then surgery can be considered. This is more likely to be the case if the pain has been present for six months or more. The nature of the surgery depends if you have insertional, or non-insertional disease. In non-insertional tendonosis the damaged tendon is thinned and cleaned. The damage is then repaired. If there is extensive damage one of the tendons which moves your big toe (the flexor hallucis longus) may be used to reinforce the damaged Achilles tendon. In insertional tendonosis there is often rubbing of the tendon by a prominent part of the heel bone. This bone is removed. In removing the bone the attachment of the tendon to the bone may be weakened. In these cases the attachment of the tendon to the bone may need to be reinforced with sutures and bone anchors.
The following measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis. Adequately stretch and warm up prior to exercise. Warm down and stretch after exercise. Choose footwear carefully and use footwear appropriate to the sport being undertaken. Use orthotic devices in footwear to correctly support the foot. Exercise within fitness levels and follow a sensible exercise programme. Develop strong, flexible calf muscles.