All About Achilles Tendonitis

Overview

Achilles TendinitisAchilles Tendinitis is a painful condition. Running and walking are made possible by the Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Strenuous exercise, jumping, and climbing are all movements that can strain the tendon and calf muscles, causing an inflammation known as tendinitis. The injury to the Achilles can be mild, requiring only rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, or severe, necessitating surgical repair of the damaged tendon. Chronic Achilles tendinitis can lead to micro tears in the tissue (tendinosis), which weaken the tendon and put it at risk for severe damage such as a tear or rupture.

Causes

Over-pronation, injury and overstresses of the tendon are some of the most common causes. Risk factors include tight heel cords, poor foot alignment, and recent changes in activities or shoes. During a normal gait cycle, the upper and lower leg rotate in unison (i.e. internally during pronation and externally during supination). However, when a person over-pronates, the lower leg is locked into the foot and therefore continues to rotate internally past the end of the contact phase while the femur begins to rotate externally at the beginning of midstance. The Gastrocnemius muscle is attached to the upper leg and rotates externally while the Soleus muscle is attached to the lower leg and rotates internally during pronation. The resulting counter rotation of the upper and lower leg causes a shearing force to occur in the Achilles tendon. This counter rotation twists the tendon at its weakest area, namely the Achilles tendon itself, and causes the inflammation. Since the tendon is avascular, once inflammation sets in, it tends to be chronic.

Symptoms

Symptoms include pain in the heel and along the tendon when walking or running. The area may feel painful and stiff in the morning. The tendon may be painful to touch or move. The area may be swollen and warm. You may have trouble standing up on one toe.

Diagnosis

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.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Make sure that the tendon is not torn through and through. If it is severed, you must see a doctor immediately so that the tendon can be repaired. Severe injuries can sever a tendon, without a skin laceration being present. Testing involves moving the toes and foot to see if the tendon moves. If the tendon does not appear to move, it may be severed (comparing the injured tendon and its movement to the same tendon on the uninjured foot may help). Very sharp pain, a sudden pop, or an obvious gap in the structure of the tendon are all signs of a rupture, and should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. If there is extreme swelling of the leg, and pain (out of proportion to the amount of trauma received), you may have sustained a vascular injury. A doctor must see this type of injury immediately. If you are not sure, see a doctor. If you have multiple injured areas see a doctor immediately, in order to prevent excessive swelling and pain. If the above exam is negative, then you may proceed with self-treatment. (However, if you are not sure of the extent of your injury, you should consult your doctor immediately). The sooner you begin to treat your injury by following "R.I.C.E.", the better you will feel. Rest is very important. Take off your shoe, get off your feet, and relax. Ice should be applied as soon as possible. Never apply ice directly on the injured area, as the cold may make the pain worse. Ice should be applied close to the injured site, between the heart and the injury, so that as the blood flows under the ice, it will be cooled. This cool blood flowing into the injured area will help to reduce the swelling and pain. Apply the ice, wrapped in a cloth or over an elastic bandage, to the foot for 15 minutes, every 1-2 hours, for up to 3 days after an injury. If the ice is uncomfortable, or causes increased pain, do not continue to use it, and see a doctor. If you have poor circulation do not use ice, as this may cause a serious problem. c. Compression is used to limit swelling, and to give support to the injured area. Compression should be applied to the entire foot, starting first at the toes and working back to the ankle. If it is applied just to the injured area, increased swelling will occur in front and behind the wrapping. Compression should be applied with a 3-inch elastic bandage, beginning around the base of all the toes, and then going around the foot and ankle. Continue over the calf muscle when possible. Compression reduces motion in the injured area and foot, and this decreases the pain, and allows for quicker healing. The bandage should not be so tight that it causes increased pain or throbbing in the toes or foot. It should be comfortable! Do not remove the elastic bandage for the first 12 hours, unless it becomes too tight, or the pain increases, or the toes become pale, blue, or cool. If any of these things happen, immediately remove all bandages, and leave them off for several hours. The normal color and temperature of the toes should return immediately. If not, see a doctor immediately! Continue until the swelling and pain subsides; it could take from several days to several weeks. d. Elevation of the leg will aid in reducing swelling and pain. Blood rushes to an injured area to bring increased blood cells, that aid in healing. Gravity will also force blood to the injured area. Too many cells and too much fluid will apply pressure to the injured nerves and tissues, and cause increased pain and delayed healing. Keep your foot elevated so that it is at least parallel to the ground, or higher if it is comfortable. Do this for at least 48 hours, or until the throbbing subsides, when you lower the leg.

Achilles Tendonitis

Surgical Treatment

Mini-Open Achilles Tendon Repair. During a mini-open Achilles tendon repair surgery, 2 to 8 small stab incisions are made to pull the edges of the tendon tear together and suture the torn edges to repair the damage. During this procedure the surgeon will make one 3 to 4 cm long incision on the back of your ankle and 2 to 4 smaller vertical incisions around the long incision. These smaller veritical incisions are made with a pair of surgical scissors and are commonly referred to as "stab incisions". Once the incisions are opened up, the surgeon will place precise sutures with non-absorbable stitches to strengthen the damaged Achilles tendon tissue. This suturing technique reduces the amount of scar tissue on the tendon after surgery and provides better surface healing of the skin. Unlike the traditional method of an open surgery, this procedure has less risks and complications involved. To learn about all risks you may face be sure to speak to your doctor.

Prevention

Your podiatrist will work with you to decrease your chances of re-developing tendinitis. He or she may create custom orthotics to help control the motion of your feet. He or she may also recommend certain stretches or exercises to increase the tendon's elasticity and strengthen the muscles attached to the tendon. Gradually increasing your activity level with an appropriate training schedule-building up to a 5K run, for instance, instead of simply tackling the whole course the first day-can also help prevent tendinitis.

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