Achilles tendinitis can be a very crippling issue for runners - simply because the pain is enough to discourage loading of the foot. It can also be a tricky condition to treat because the tendon is not as heavily vascularized (i.e. more blood flow) as muscle, and therefore lacks healing potential. It is highly recommended that you see a physical therapist as soon as you experience acute symptoms, so chronic tendonosis (which is longer termed and harder to treat) does not set in.
Over-pronation, injury and overstresses of the tendon are some of the most common causes. Risk factors include tight heel cords, poor foot alignment, and recent changes in activities or shoes. During a normal gait cycle, the upper and lower leg rotate in unison (i.e. internally during pronation and externally during supination). However, when a person over-pronates, the lower leg is locked into the foot and therefore continues to rotate internally past the end of the contact phase while the femur begins to rotate externally at the beginning of midstance. The Gastrocnemius muscle is attached to the upper leg and rotates externally while the Soleus muscle is attached to the lower leg and rotates internally during pronation. The resulting counter rotation of the upper and lower leg causes a shearing force to occur in the Achilles tendon. This counter rotation twists the tendon at its weakest area, namely the Achilles tendon itself, and causes the inflammation. Since the tendon is avascular, once inflammation sets in, it tends to be chronic.
Symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis include the following. Pain and stiffness along the Achilles tendon in the morning. Pain along the tendon or back of the heel that worsens with activity. Severe pain the day after exercising. Thickening of the tendon. Bone spur (insertional tendinitis). Swelling that is present all the time and gets worse throughout the day with activity. If you have an Achilles tendon rupture, you might feel a pop or snap, accompanied by a sharp pain behind your ankle. You are likely to have difficulty walking properly. If you have ruptured your Achilles tendon then surgery is likely to be the best treatment option.
X-rays are usually normal in patients with Achilles tendonitis, but are performed to evaluate for other possible conditions. Occasionally, an MRI is needed to evaluate a patient for tears within the tendon. If there is a thought of surgical treatment an MRI may be helpful for preoperative evaluation and planning.
Proper footwear with a strong and secure counter (the heel circumference) may help to encourage heeling of the tendon. A tendinitis will occasionally resolve on it?s own, with rest, ice, and gentle stretching. If symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, consult your physician. Your physician may suggest physiotherapy and custom orthotics. Physiotherapy can suggest appropriate exercises and modalities to aid in the healing process. Custom orthotics can be very successful in treating the problem, as the original cause may be due to an improper alignment of the foot and heel. Re-aligning the foot to a neutral position may provide an optimal, biomechanically sound environment for healing to occur.
In most surgeries, damaged tissue is cleaned out before surgeons make the necessary repairs. However, a new minimally-invasive surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon actually uses the damaged tissue to help repair the tear. The percutaneous Achilles repair system, or PARS technique, enables surgeons to better repair a torn Achilles tendon through a smaller incision. This procedure was recently performed at Houston Methodist Hospital to treat an NFL cornerback, getting him back on field for this season.
Appropriately warm up and stretch before practice or competition. Allow time for adequate rest and recovery between practices and competition. Maintain appropriate conditioning, Ankle and leg flexibility, Muscle strength and endurance, Cardiovascular fitness. Use proper technique. To help prevent recurrence, taping, protective strapping, or an adhesive bandage may be recommended for several weeks after healing is complete.