Achilles Tendinitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendonThe Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel and is active during almost all activities including walking, jumping, and swimming. This dense tendon can withstand large forces, but can become inflamed and painful during periods of overuse. Pain results from inflammation (tendonitis) or a degenerating tendon (tendinosis). Achilles tendon pathologies include rupture and tendonitis. Many experts now believe, however, that tendonitis is a misleading term that should no longer be used, because signs of true inflammation are almost never present on histologic examination. Instead, the following histopathologically determined nomenclature has evolved. Paratenonitis: Characterized by paratenon inflammation and thickening, as well as fibrin adhesions. Tendinosis: Characterized by intrasubstance disarray and degeneration of the tendon.




Causes

Achilles tendinitis can be caused by any activity that puts stress on your Achilles tendon. Tendinitis can develop if you run or jump more than usual or exercise on a hard surface. Tendinitis can be caused by shoes that do not fit or support your foot and ankle. Tight tendons and muscles, You may have tight hamstring and calf muscles in your upper and lower leg. Your tendons also become stiffer and easier to injure as you get older. Arthritis, Bony growths caused by arthritis can irritate the Achilles tendon, especially around your heel.




Symptoms

Symptoms of acute achilles tendonitis will be a gradual onset of achilles pain at the back of the ankle, just above the heel bone. This may develop over a period of days. The achilles tendon may be painful and stiff at the start of exercise and first thing in the morning. As the tendon warms up the pain will go often for it to return later in the day or towards the end of a prolonged training session. The tendon will be very tender on palpation or pressing in on the achilles tendon or squeezing it from the sides. Chronic achilles tendonitis may follow on from acute achilles tendonitis if it goes untreated or is not allowed sufficient rest. Chronic achilles tendonitis is a difficult condition to treat, particularly in older athletes who appear to suffer more often.




Diagnosis

A doctor examines the patient, checking for pain and swelling along the posterior of the leg. The doctor interviews the patient regarding the onset, history, and description of pain and weakness. The muscles, tissues, bones, and blood vessels may be evaluated with imaging studies, such as X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI.




Nonsurgical Treatment

The aim of the treatment is to reduce strain on the tendon and reduce inflammation. Strain may be reduced by, avoiding or severely limiting activities that may aggravate the condition, such as running, using shoe inserts (orthoses) to take pressure off the tendon as it heals. In cases of flat or hyperpronated feet, your doctor or podiatrist may recommend long-term use of orthoses. I8nflammation may be reduced by, applying icepacks for 20 minutes per hour during the acute stage, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, placing the foot in a cast or restrictive ankle-boot to minimise movement and give the tendon time to heal. This may be recommended in severe cases and used for about eight weeks. Occasionally depot (slowly absorbed) steroid injections may be tried, particularly for peri-tendinitis, but great care needs to be taken to avoid injecting into the tendon. This should only be done by a specialist doctor. You may also be given specific exercises to gently stretch the calf muscles once the acute stage of inflammation has settled down. Your doctor or physiotherapist will recommend these exercises when you are on the road to recovery. Recovery is often slow and will depend on the severity of the condition and how carefully you follow the treatment and care instructions you are given.

Achilles Tendon




Surgical Treatment

For paratenonitis, a technique called brisement is an option. Local anesthetic is injected into the space between the tendon and its surrounding sheath to break up scar tissue. This can be beneficial in earlier stages of the problem 30 to 50 percent of the time, but may need to be repeated two to three times. Surgery consists of cutting out the surrounding thickened and scarred sheath. The tendon itself is also explored and any split tears within the tendon are repaired. Motion is started almost immediately to prevent repeat scarring of the tendon to the sheath and overlying soft tissue, and weight-bearing should follow as soon as pain and swelling permit, usually less than one to two weeks. Return to competitive activity takes three to six months. Since tendinosis involves changes in the substance of the tendon, brisement is of no benefit. Surgery consists of cutting out scar tissue and calcification deposits within the tendon. Abnormal tissue is excised until tissue with normal appearance appears. The tendon is then repaired with suture. In older patients or when more than 50 percent of the tendon is removed, one of the other tendons at the back of the ankle is transferred to the heel bone to assist the Achilles tendon with strength as well as provide better blood supply to this area.




Prevention

Although Achilles tendinitis cannot be completely prevented, the risk of developing it can be lowered. Being aware of the possible causes does help, but the risk can be greatly reduced by taking the following precautions. Getting a variety of exercise - alternating between high-impact exercises (e.g. running) and low-impact exercise (e.g. swimming) can help, as it means there are days when the Achilles tendon is under less tension. Limit certain exercises - doing too much hill running, for example, can put excessive strain on the Achilles tendon. Wearing the correct shoes and replacing them when worn - making sure they support the arch and protect the heel will create less tension in the tendon. Using arch supports inside the shoe, if the shoe is in good condition but doesn't provide the required arch support this is a cheaper (and possibly more effective) alternative to replacing the shoe completely. Stretching, doing this before and after exercising helps to keep the Achilles tendon flexible, which means less chance of tendinitis developing. There is no harm in stretching every day (even on days of rest), as this will only further improve flexibility. Gradually increasing the intensity of a workout - Achilles tendinitis can occur when the tendon is suddenly put under too much strain, warming up and increasing the level of activity gradually gives your muscles time to loosen up and puts less pressure on the tendon.

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