The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles in the lower leg to the heel bone. It is the largest yet most exposed tendon in the body. Achilles tendonitis is where the Achilles tendon, and sometimes the protective sheath through which it moves, becomes inflamed, causing pain and swelling symptoms. Achilles tendonitis (also known as Achilles tendinopathy or tendonosis) is classified as an overuse injury. If left untreated it can become chronic (long-term), requiring more intensive treatment. Achilles tendonitis can also increase the risk of sustaining an Achilles tendon rupture (tear).
The majority of Achilles tendon injuries are due to overuse injuries. Other factors that lead to Achilles tendonitis are improper shoe selection, inadequate stretching prior to engaging in athletics, a short Achilles tendon, direct trauma (injury) to the tendon, training errors and heel bone deformity. There is significant evidence that people with feet that role in excessively (over-pronate) are at greater risk for developing Achilles tendinitis. The increased pronation puts additional stress on the tendon, therefore, placing it at greater risk for injury.
Gradual onset of pain and stiffness over the tendon, which may improve with heat or walking and worsen with strenuous activity. Tenderness of the tendon on palpation. There may also be crepitus and swelling. Pain on active movement of the ankle joint. Ultrasound or MRI may be necessary to differentiate tendonitis from a partial tendon rupture.
The doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor will look for tenderness along the tendon and pain in the area of the tendon when you stand on your toes. X-rays can help diagnose bone problems. An MRI scan may be done if your doctor is thinking about surgery or is worried about the tear in the Achilles tendon.
Supportive shoes and orthotics. Pain from insertional Achilles tendinitis is often helped by certain shoes, as well as orthotic devices. For example, shoes that are softer at the back of the heel can reduce irritation of the tendon. In addition, heel lifts can take some strain off the tendon. Heel lifts are also very helpful for patients with insertional tendinitis because they can move the heel away from the back of the shoe, where rubbing can occur. They also take some strain off the tendon. Like a heel lift, a silicone Achilles sleeve can reduce irritation from the back of a shoe. If your pain is severe, your doctor may recommend a walking boot for a short time. This gives the tendon a chance to rest before any therapy is begun. Extended use of a boot is discouraged, though, because it can weaken your calf muscle. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT). During this procedure, high-energy shockwave impulses stimulate the healing process in damaged tendon tissue. ESWT has not shown consistent results and, therefore, is not commonly performed. ESWT is noninvasive-it does not require a surgical incision. Because of the minimal risk involved, ESWT is sometimes tried before surgery is considered.
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.
Your podiatrist will work with you to decrease your chances of re-developing tendinitis. He or she may create custom orthotics to help control the motion of your feet. He or she may also recommend certain stretches or exercises to increase the tendon’s elasticity and strengthen the muscles attached to the tendon. Gradually increasing your activity level with an appropriate training schedule-building up to a 5K run, for instance, instead of simply tackling the whole course the first day-can also help prevent tendinitis.