Achilles tendonitis is commonly seen in athletes who sustain an increase in training load, and is most often due to overuse. Tendons respond poorly to overuse, therefore healing is slow. This can leave a tendon pathologically defective, which decreases tendon strength and leaves it less able to tolerate load, thus vulnerable to further injury or tendinosis. Extrinsic factors contributing to this condition include training errors and inappropriate footwear. Intrinsic factors include inflexibility, weakness and malalignment. In other situations, there will be clinical inflammation, but objective pathologic evidence for cellular inflammation is lacking, and in these conditions the term tendinosis is more appropriate. Tendinosis is a degeneration of the tendon?s collagen in response to chronic overuse; when overuse is continued without giving the tendon time to heal and rest, such as with repetitive strain injury, tendinosis results. Even tiny movements, such as clicking a mouse, can cause tendinosis, when done repeatedly.
There are two large muscles in the calf. These muscles are important for walking. They create the power needed to push off with the foot or go up on the toes. The large Achilles tendon connects these muscles to the heel. Heel pain is most often due to overuse of the foot. Rarely it is caused by an injury. Tendinitis due to overuse is most common in younger people. It can occur in walkers, runners, or other athletes. Achilles tendinitis may be more likely to occur if you Suddenly increase the amount or intensity of an activity. Your calf muscles are very tight (not stretched out). You run on hard surfaces such as concrete. You run too often, you jump a lot (such as when playing basketball), you do not have shoes with proper support, your foot suddenly turns in or out. Tendinitis from arthritis is more common in middle-aged and elderly people. A bone spur or growth may form in the back of the heel bone. This may irritate the Achilles tendon and cause pain and swelling.
Paratenonitis presents in younger people. Symptoms start gradually and spontaneously. Aching and burning pain is noted especially with morning activity. It may improve slightly with initial activity, but becomes worse with further activity. It is aggravated by exercise. Over time less exercise is required to cause the pain. The Achilles tendon is often enlarged, warm and tender approximately 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Sometimes friction is noted with gentle palpation of the tendon during ankle motion. Tendinosis presents similarly but typically in middle-aged people. If severe pain and limited walking ability are present, it may indicate a partial tear of the tendon.
Physicians usually pinch your Achilles tendon with their fingers to test for swelling and pain. If the tendon itself is inflamed, your physician may be able to feel warmth and swelling around the tissue, or, in chronic cases, lumps of scar tissue. You will probably be asked to walk around the exam room so your physician can examine your stride. To check for complete rupture of the tendon, your physician may perform the Thompson test. Your physician squeezes your calf; if your Achilles is not torn, the foot will point downward. If your Achilles is torn, the foot will remain in the same position. Should your physician require a closer look, these imaging tests may be performed. X-rays taken from different angles may be used to rule out other problems, such as ankle fractures. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic waves to create pictures of your ankle that let physicians more clearly look at the tendons surrounding your ankle joint.
The latest studies on Achilles tendonitis recommend a treatment plan that incorporates the following three components. Treatment of the inflammation. Strengthening of the muscles that make up the Achilles tendon using eccentric exercise. These are a very specific type of exercise that has been shown in multiple studies to be a critical component of recovering from Achilles tendonitis. Biomechanical control (the use of orthotics and proper shoes). Shockwave therapy.
In cases of severe, long-term Achilles tendonitis the sheath may become thick and fibrous. In these cases surgery may be recommended. Surgery aims to remove the fibrous tissue and repair any tears in the tendon. A cast or splint will be required after the operation and a recovery program including physiotherapy, specific exercises and a gradual return to activity will be planned.
Maintaining strength and flexibility in the muscles of the calf will help reduce the risk of tendinitis. Overusing a weak or tight Achilles tendon makes you more likely to develop tendinitis.