Achilles tendinitis is a common condition that causes pain on the back of the leg near the heel. The achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body connecting your calf muscles to your heel bone. Your achilles tendon is used when you walk, run or jump. It is made to withstand a high amount of stress from these activities, but when it is overused, you can develop tendinitis. Tendinitis is defined as inflammation of a tendon. When you are injured, your body's natural response causes inflammation. You may experience pain, swelling, or tenderness at the injured site. There are two types of achilles tendinitis, insertional and non-insertional achilles tendinitis.
Achilles tendinitis may be caused by intensive hill running, sprinting, or stair climbing. Overuse resulting from the natural lack of flexibility in the calf muscles. Rapidly increasing intensity of exercise, especially after a period of inactivity. Sudden and hard contraction of the calf muscles when exerting extra effort, like that in a final sprint or high jump.
Pain in the back of the heel that can be a shooting pain, burning pain or even an intense piercing pain. Swelling, tenderness and warmth over the Achilles tendon especially at the insertion of the tendon to the calcaneous, which may even extend into the muscle of the calf. Difficulty walking, sometimes the pain makes walking impossible. Pain that is aggravated by activities that repeatedly stress the tendon, causing inflammation or pain that occurs in the first few steps of the morning or after sitting down for extended periods of time which gets better with mild activity. It is important to note though that achilles tendinosis can develop gradually without a history of trauma.
Your physiotherapist or sports doctor can usually confirm the diagnosis of Achilles tendonitis in the clinic. They will base their diagnosis on your history, symptom behaviour and clinical tests. Achilles tendons will often have a painful and prominent lump within the tendon. Further investigations include US scan or MRI. X-rays are of little use in the diagnosis.
There is insufficient evidence from randomised controlled trials to determine which method of treatment is the most appropriate for the treatment of acute or chronic Achilles tendonitis. The patient should abstain from aggravating activities, but with a minimum of rest in order to preserve overall fitness. Possible treatments are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ice, rest, increased warm-up/stretching exercises, physiotherapy and heel lifts (orthotic devices - used on both sides to prevent a gait imbalance). Other treatments evaluated in a Cochrane review were heparin, steroid injections, glycosaminoglycan sulfate, Actovegin?, and topical laser treatment. There was no clear evidence of benefit from these. Casting is an option for resistant Achilles tendonitis. Drugs - analgesics and NSAIDs. Surgery is sometimes used for resistant Achilles tendonitis, but usually as a last resort. Other recently reported treatments include continuing sporting activity in conjunction with rehabilitation, low-energy shock wave therapy and topical glyceryl trinitrate .
Chronic Achilles tendon tears can be more complicated to repair. A tendon that has torn and retracted (pulled back) into the leg will scar in the shortened position over time. Restoring normal tendon length is usually not an issue when surgery is performed within a few weeks of the injury. However, when there has been a delay of months or longer, the treatment can be more complicated. Several procedures can be used to add length to a chronic Achilles tear. A turndown procedure uses tissue folded down from the top of the calf to add length to the Achilles tendon. Tendon transfers from other tendons of the ankle can also be performed to help restore function of the Achilles. The results of surgery in a chronic situation are seldom as good as an acute repair. However, in some patients, these procedures can help restore function of a chronically damaged Achilles.
Regardless of whether the Achilles injury is insertional or non-insertional, a great method for lessening stress on the Achilles tendon is flexor digitorum longus exercises. This muscle, which originates along the back of the leg and attaches to the tips of the toes, lies deep to the Achilles. It works synergistically with the soleus muscle to decelerate the forward motion of the leg before the heel leaves the ground during propulsion. This significantly lessens strain on the Achilles tendon as it decelerates elongation of the tendon. Many foot surgeons are aware of the connection between flexor digitorum longus and the Achilles tendon-surgical lengthening of the Achilles (which is done to treat certain congenital problems) almost always results in developing hammer toes as flexor digitorum longus attempts to do the job of the recently lengthened tendon. Finally, avoid having cortisone injected into either the bursa or tendon-doing so weakens the tendon as it shifts production of collagen from type one to type three. In a recent study published in the Journal of Bone Joint Surgery(9), cortisone was shown to lower the stress necessary to rupture the Achilles tendon, and was particularly dangerous when done on both sides, as it produced a systemic effect that further weakened the tendon.