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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.
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.
Symptoms of Achilles tendinitis and tendinosis include recurring localized heel pain, sometimes severe, along the achilles tendon during or after exercise. Pain often begins after exercise and gradually worsens. Morning tenderness or stiffness about an inch and a half above the point where the Achilles tendon is attached to the heel bone. Sluggishness in your leg. Mild to severe swelling. Stiffness that generally diminishes as the tendon warms up with use.
There is enlargement and warmth of the tendon 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Pain and sometimes a scratching feeling may be created by gently squeezing the tendon between the thumb and forefinger during ankle motion. There may be weakness in push-off strength with walking. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can define the extent of degeneration, the degree to which the tendon sheath is involved and the presence of other problems in this area, but the diagnosis is mostly clinical.
Most cases of Achilles tendonitis can be treated at home. Here’s what to do. Stop doing the activity that led to the injury. Avoid putting stress on your legs and feet, and give your tendon plenty of time to fully recover. Use the RICE formula. Don’t exercise for a few days, or try an exercise that doesn’t stress your feet, such as swimming. If necessary, your doctor may recommend that you use crutches or wear a walking boot to keep weight off your foot. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or a cold compress to your tendon for 15 minutes or more after you exercise or if you feel pain in the tendon. Use tape or an athletic wrap to keep swelling down and help support and immobilize the tendon. Lie down and raise your foot above the level of your heart, and if possible, try to sleep with your foot elevated. This will help keep the swelling to a minimum. Take anti-inflammatory medications. Pain relievers like ibuprofen can help ease pain and reduce swelling in the affected area. Stretch and exercise your ankles and calf muscles while you recover. Keeping your muscles, tendons, and ligaments strong and flexible will aid in your recovery and help you keep from reinjuring your Achilles tendon. A doctor or a physical therapist can help you come up with a good exercise program. Try a pair of prescription orthotic inserts for your shoes if your doctor thinks it will help. Sometimes orthotics can be helpful. Talk to your doctor or someone trained in fitting orthotics to find out if they might work for you. Achilles tendon surgery is rarely needed. It’s usually only done if the tendon breaks, and then only as a last resort after other methods of therapy have been tried. Most cases of Achilles tendonitis will get better on their own with rest and minor treatment.
When the tendon tears or ruptures the variety of surgical techniques are available to repair the damage and restore the tendons function. Recent research that is done at Emory University Department of orthopedics have perfected the repair of the Achilles tendon. The procedure is generally involves making an incision in the back of your leg and stitching the torn tendon together using a technique developed and tested by Dr. Labib. Depending on the condition of the torn tissue the repair may be reinforced with other tendons.
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.