Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon. This inflammation is typically short-lived. Over time, if not resolved, the condition may progress to a degeneration of the tendon (Achilles tendonosis), in which the tendon loses its organized structure and is likely to develop microscopic tears. Sometimes the degeneration involves the site where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone. In rare cases, chronic degeneration with or without pain may result in rupture of the tendon.
Achilles tendonitis is aggravated by activities that repeatedly stress the tendon, causing inflammation. In some cases even prolonged periods of standing can cause symptoms. In many people who have developed achilles tendonitis, chronic shortening of the gastroc-soleus muscle complex is the reason that home remedies and anti-inflammatory medications fail. In these instances the muscle itself becomes shortened and creates a constant stress at the tendon?s attachment. Like a green branch that is slowly bent, eventually it begins to breakdown. Over a prolonged period the tendon becomes inflamed, and in the worst cases, appears swollen and thickened. In certain circumstances attempts to heal have failed and the body?s inability to heal the tissue results in degenerative changes known as achilles tendonosis. Anti-inflammatory medication, stretching and ice may only provide temporary relief, because they address the inflammation but not the root cause.
Mild ache in the back of the lower leg, especially after running. More acute pain may occur after prolonged activity, Tenderness or stiffness in the morning. In most cases the pain associated with Achilles tendinitis is more annoying than debilitating, making sufferers regret activity after the fact, but not keeping them from doing it. More severe pain around the Achilles tendon may be a symptom of a much more serious ruptured tendon.
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.
Physical therapy is the first and most useful defense for achilles tendonitis because of the two presentations outlined above. Treatments for the two types are quite different in approach. Midsubstance tendinitis responds well to stretching, whereas insertional tendnitis tends to be aggravated more by it. Depend on your trusted physical therapist to differentiate between the two and follow their guidelines on exercises and running modifications. Running gait patterns that show excessive ?sinking postures? tend to point to the source of achilles tendon problems. Altering your gait in the midstance phase of the cycle can reduce the load on the tendon dramatically and thereby reduce pain. Rely on your running physical therapist for proper guidance on altering your gait the right way. Stride Strong?s Portland Running Clinic gait analysis can identify and fix potential issues before pain sets in. Icing at the onset of acute achilles pain (i.e. when the injury is fresh and new) would help control the inflammation. Your next step should be to call our number for an appointment.
Surgery is an option of last resort. However, if friction between the tendon and its covering sheath makes the sheath thick and fibrous, surgery to remove the fibrous tissue and repair any tears may be the best treatment option.
There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of Achilles tendinitis, warm up every time before you exercise or play a sport. Switch up your exercises. Slowly increase the length and intensity of your workouts. Keep your muscles active and stay in shape all year-round. When you see symptoms of Achilles tendinitis, stop whatever activity you are doing and rest.