Achilles tendonitis is a condition wherein the Achilles tendon, at or near its insertion to back of the heel, becomes inflamed and causes pain. The Achilles tendon is one of the longest and strongest tendons in the body. It is avascular (not supplied with blood vessels) so it can be slow to heal. The Achilles tendon is formed in the lower third of the leg. Two muscles join to form the Achilles tendon, the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus which are commonly referred to as the calf muscle. The Achilles tendon works as an anti-pronator which means it helps to prevent the foot from rolling inward.
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.
The main symptom of Achilles tendonitis is a feeling of pain and swelling in your heel as you walk or run. Other symptoms include tight calf muscles and limited range of motion when flexing the foot. This condition can also make the skin in your heel feel overly warm to the touch.
During the physical exam, your doctor will gently press on the affected area to determine the location of pain, tenderness or swelling. He or she will also evaluate the flexibility, alignment, range of motion and reflexes of your foot and ankle. Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests to assess your condition, X-rays. While X-rays can't visualize soft tissues such as tendons, they may help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Ultrasound. This device uses sound waves to visualize soft tissues like tendons. Ultrasound can also produce real-time images of the Achilles tendon in motion. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and a very strong magnet, MRI machines can produce very detailed images of the Achilles tendon.
Most cases of Achilles tendonitis can be treated at home. Here's what to do. Stop doing the activity that led to the injury. Avoid putting stress on your legs and feet, and give your tendon plenty of time to fully recover. Use the RICE formula. Don't exercise for a few days, or try an exercise that doesn't stress your feet, such as swimming. If necessary, your doctor may recommend that you use crutches or wear a walking boot to keep weight off your foot. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or a cold compress to your tendon for 15 minutes or more after you exercise or if you feel pain in the tendon. Use tape or an athletic wrap to keep swelling down and help support and immobilize the tendon. Lie down and raise your foot above the level of your heart, and if possible, try to sleep with your foot elevated. This will help keep the swelling to a minimum. Take anti-inflammatory medications. Pain relievers like ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce swelling in the affected area. Stretch and exercise your ankles and calf muscles while you recover. Keeping your muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong and flexible will aid in your recovery and help you keep from reinjuring your Achilles tendon. A doctor or a physical therapist can help you come up with a good exercise program. Try a pair of prescription orthotic inserts for your shoes if your doctor thinks it will help. Sometimes orthotics can be helpful. Talk to your doctor or someone trained in fitting orthotics to find out if they might work for you. Achilles tendon surgery is rarely needed. It's usually only done if the tendon breaks, and then only as a last resort after other methods of therapy have been tried. Most cases of Achilles tendonitis will get better on their own with rest and minor treatment.
Percutaneous Achilles Tendon Surgery. During this procedure the surgeon will make 3 to 4 incisions (approx. 2.5 cm long) on both sides of the Achilles tendon. Small forceps are used to free the tendon sheath (the soft tissue casing around your Achilles tendon) to make room for the surgeon to stitch/suture any tears. Skilled surgeons may perform a percutaneous achilles tendon surgery with ultrasound imaging techniques to allow for blink suturing with stab incisions made by a surgical suture needle. This procedure can be done in 3 different ways depending on the preference and experience of your surgeon. Instead of making several 2.5 cm incisions for this procedure, some surgeons will use guided imaging with an ultrasound to see the Achilles tendon tissue without having to open up your ankle. For this technique, they will use a surgical needle to repeatedly stab your Achilles tendon. These "stab incisions" will allow the surgeon to "blindly" suture your tendon without seeing the actual tissue. As another option - some surgeons will only make 1 to 3 incisions for smaller surgical implements to repair your tendon while relying on imaging ultrasound to see your damaged tissue. During either procedure the use of ultrasound imaging or endoscopic techniques requires a very skilled surgeon.
To prevent Achilles tendonitis or tendonosis from recurring after surgical or non-surgical treatment, the foot and ankle surgeon may recommend strengthening and stretching of the calf muscles through daily exercises. Wearing proper shoes for the foot type and activity is also important in preventing recurrence of the condition.