Achilles Tendinitis

Overview

Achilles TendinitisThe 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

Poorly conditioned athletes are at the highest risk for developing Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis. Participating in activities that involve sudden stops and starts and repetitive jumping (e.g., basketball, tennis, dancing) increases the risk for the condition. It often develops following sudden changes in activity level, training on poor surfaces, or wearing inappropriate footwear. Achilles tendonitis may be caused by a single incident of overstressing the tendon, or it may result from a series of stresses that produce small tears over time (overuse). Patients who develop arthritis in the heel have an increased risk for developing Achilles tendonitis. This occurs more often in people who middle aged and older. The condition also may develop in people who exercise infrequently and in those who are just beginning an exercise program, because inactive muscles and tendons have little flexibility because of inactivity. It is important for people who are just starting to exercise to stretch properly, start slowly, and increase gradually. In some cases, a congenital (i.e., present at birth) condition causes Achilles tendonitis. Typically, this is due to abnormal rotation of the foot and leg (pronation), which causes the arch of the foot to flatten and the leg to twist more than normal.




Symptoms

The primary symptom of Achilles tendon inflammation is pain in the back of the heel, which initially increases when exercise is begun and often lessens as exercise continues. A complete tear of the Achilles tendon typically occurs with a sudden forceful change in direction when running or playing tennis and is often accompanied by a sensation of having been struck in the back of the ankle and calf with an object such as a baseball bat.




Diagnosis

Laboratory studies usually are not necessary in evaluating and diagnosing an Achilles tendon rupture or injury, although evaluation may help to rule out some of the other possibilities in the differential diagnosis. Imaging studies. Plain radiography: Radiographs are more useful for ruling out other injuries than for ruling in Achilles tendon ruptures. Ultrasonography: Ultrasonography of the leg and thigh can help to evaluate the possibility of deep venous thrombosis and also can be used to rule out a Baker cyst; in experienced hands, ultrasonography can identify a ruptured Achilles tendon or the signs of tendinosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI can facilitate definitive diagnosis of a disrupted tendon and can be used to distinguish between paratenonitis, tendinosis, and bursitis.




Nonsurgical Treatment

Treatment for achilles tendonitis is based around initially reducing pain and inflammation, stretching the muscles out and a gradual return to activity. No one single approach may cure achilles tendonitis, particularly a chronic condition but a combination of treatment approaches and patience will work best. It is essential the correct treatment is started as soon as possible in the acute stage to avoid the injury becoming chronic. Acute achilles tendonitis requires rest. Continuing to train on a painful achilles tendon could lead to the injury becoming chronic and more difficult to treat. Applying ice or cold therapy as soon as possible to a painful achilles tendon will reduce pain and inflammation. After the first 24 to 48 hours alternating hot and cold or just heat may be more beneficial. Tendons work better when they are warm but if they are painful then rest and ice. Wear a heel pad to raise the heel and shorten the calf muscles which in turn reduces some of the strain on the achilles tendon. This should only be a temporary measure while the achilles tendon is healing. An achilles tendon taping technique can aid rest by supporting the tendon with elastic bandages. This is an excellent way of taking the load off the tendon if you have to walk around on your feet as well as protecting the tendon when returning to full fitness. Achilles tendon exercisesMake sure you have the right running shoes for your foot type and the sport. If you are a runner that over-pronates then a motion control or support running shoe may be needed. Visit a specialist running shop for advice. In the later stages apply heat, especially before exercise. The tendon will perform better when warm. Finish with cold after training to reduce any inflammation.

Achilles Tendonitis




Surgical Treatment

If several months of more-conservative treatments don't work or if the tendon has torn, your doctor may suggest surgery to repair your Achilles tendon.




Prevention

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.

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