All About Achilles Tendonitis

Overview

Achilles TendinitisAchilles tendonitis is one of the most common running injuries. The achilles tendon is the large tendon at the back of the ankle. It connects the calf muscles made up of the gastrocnemius and soleus to the heel bone or calcaneus. It provides the power in the push off phase of walking and running where huge forces are transmitted through the achilles tendon. Achilles tendonitis is often now referred to as achilles tendinopathy. This is because the term tendinopathy covers all types of overuse achilles tendon injury. Strictly speaking tendonitis suggests an inflammatory condition of the tendon but in reality few achilles tendon injuries are actually down to pure inflammation. Soleus muscleThe main finding, particularly in older athletes is usually degeneration of the tissue with a loss of normal fibre structure. Other very similar conditions may actually be due to inflammation or degeneration of the tendon sheath which surrounds the tendon rather than the achilles tendon itself. In addition to being either chronic or acute, achilles tendonitis can also be at the attachment point to the heel called insertional achilles tendonitis or in the mid-portion of the tendon typically around 4cm above the heel. Healing of the achilles tendon is often slow, due to its poor blood supply.




Causes

Tight or fatigued calf muscles, which transfer the burden of running to the Achilles. This can be due to poor stretching, rapidly increasing distance, or over-training excessive hill running or speed work, both of which stress the Achilles more than other types of running. Inflexible running shoes, which, in some cases, may force the Achilles to twist. Runners who overpronate (feet rotate too far inward on impact) are most susceptible to Achilles tendinitis.




Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from an achy pain and stiffness to the insertion of the Achilles tendon to the heel bone (calcaneus), to a burning that surrounds the whole joint around the inflamed thick tendon. With this condition, the pain is usually worse during and after activity, and the tendon and joint area can become stiffer the following day. This is especially true if your sheets are pushing down on your toes and thereby driving your foot into what is termed plantar flexion (downward flexed foot), as this will shorten the tendon all night.




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

The main treatments for Achilles tendinitis do not involve surgery. It is important to remember that it may take at least 2 to 3 months for the pain to go away. Try putting ice over the Achilles tendon for 15 to 20 minutes, two to three times per day. Remove the ice if the area gets numb. Changes in activity may help manage the symptoms. Decrease or stop any activity that causes you pain. Run or walk on smoother and softer surfaces. Switch to biking, swimming, or other activities that put less stress on the Achilles tendon. Your health care provider or physical therapist can show you stretching exercises for the Achilles tendon. They may also suggest the following changes in your footwear, a brace or boot or cast to keep the heel and tendon still and allow the swelling to go down, heel lifts placed in the shoe under the heel, shoes that are softer in the areas over and under the heel cushion. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help with pain or swelling. Talk with your health care provider. If these treatments do not improve symptoms, you may need surgery to remove inflamed tissue and abnormal areas of the tendon. Surgery also can be used to remove the bone spur that is irritating the tendon. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) may be an alternative to surgery for people who have not responded to other treatments. This treatment uses low-dose sound waves.

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

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.

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