Achilles Tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which attaches the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the heel bone (calcaneus). Pain can be felt on the back of the heel at the attachment of the tendon, along the length of the tendon, or at the base of the calf where the tendon attaches to the muscle. Swelling is not always present with this injury, but it may occur in severe cases.
In some cases, Achilles Tendinitis can be caused by physical activity without a proper warm up or trauma, such as falling, to cause an overstressing of the muscle and tendon. Other causes include repetitive overuse syndrome, such as a job that required frequent heel lifting. Biomechanical causes such as pronation (or fallen arches) will cause the heel (calcaneus) to lean slightly, putting the undue stress on the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles. Most pain can be felt at the back of the heel or the point at which the calf muscle becomes a tendon three quarters of the distance down from the knee. Discomfort can be felt especially when jumping or when lifting the heel off the ground. Swelling and redness can often be seen at the back of the heel and touching the area would cause a tender sensation. In extreme cases, the tendon can become torn or rupture entirely which would cause bruising or an inability to put pressure on the foot.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include weakness in the leg, slight pain above the heel in the lower leg after activity, feeling of stiffness in the leg that usually appears in the morning and lessens throughout the day, bad pain the day after exercising, pain as you climb stairs or go uphill, swelling in the area of the Achilles tendon, creaking or cracking noise when you press on the Achilles tendon.
Your physiotherapist or sports doctor can usually confirm the diagnosis of Achilles tendonitis in the clinic. They will base their diagnosis on your history, symptom behaviour and clinical tests. Achilles tendons will often have a painful and prominent lump within the tendon. Further investigations include US scan or MRI. X-rays are of little use in the diagnosis.
In order to treat achilles tendinitis effectively, it is important to complete a thorough examination of the entire lower extremity. Once the true cause is identified, a comprehensive treatment program can be initiated to reduce inflammation and improve any faulty lower extremity biomechanics. Treatment options may include biomechanical analysis of gait. Splinting/bracing to alleviate the strain on the tendon. Soft tissue mobilization/manual therapy to decrease inflammation and promote healing of the tendon. Strengthening/flexibility and proprioceptive exercises. Home exercise program. Modalities for pain and inflammation (i.e. ultrasound, iontophoresis, electrical stimulation, ice). Methods to alter faulty mechanics (i.e taping, orthotics). Education about lifestyle changes (i.e. proper shoes, activity modification).
Surgery can be done to remove hardened fibrous tissue and repair any small tendon tears as a result of repetitive use injuries. This approach can also be used to help prevent an Achilles tendon rupture. If your Achilles tendon has already ruptured or torn, Achilles tendon surgery can be used to reattach the ends of the torn tendon. This approach is more thorough and definitive compared to non surgical treatment options discussed above. Surgical reattachment of the tendon also minimizes the change of re-rupturing the Achilles tendon.
To prevent Achilles tendonitis or tendonosis from recurring after surgical or non-surgical treatment, the foot and ankle surgeon may recommend strengthening and stretching of the calf muscles through daily exercises. Wearing proper shoes for the foot type and activity is also important in preventing recurrence of the condition.