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Achilles Tendinitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendonitisThe 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).




Causes

Achilles tendinitis can be caused by any activity that puts stress on your Achilles tendon. Tendinitis can develop if you run or jump more than usual or exercise on a hard surface. Tendinitis can be caused by shoes that do not fit or support your foot and ankle. Tight tendons and muscles, You may have tight hamstring and calf muscles in your upper and lower leg. Your tendons also become stiffer and easier to injure as you get older. Arthritis, Bony growths caused by arthritis can irritate the Achilles tendon, especially around your heel.




Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from an achy pain and stiffness to the insertion of the Achilles tendon to the heel bone (calcaneus), to a burning that surrounds the whole joint around the inflamed thick tendon. With this condition, the pain is usually worse during and after activity, and the tendon and joint area can become stiffer the following day. This is especially true if your sheets are pushing down on your toes and thereby driving your foot into what is termed plantar flexion (downward flexed foot), as this will shorten the tendon all night.




Diagnosis

A podiatrist can usually make the diagnosis by clinical history and physical examination alone. Pain with touching or stretching the tendon is typical. There may also be a visible swelling to the tendon. The patient frequently has difficulty plantarflexing (pushing down the ball of the foot and toes, like one would press on a gas pedal), particularly against resistance. In most cases X-rays don't show much, as they tend to show bone more than soft tissues. But X-rays may show associated degeneration of the heel bone that is common with Achilles Tendon problems. For example, heel spurs, calcification within the tendon, avulsion fractures, periostitis (a bruising of the outer covering of the bone) may all be seen on X-ray. In cases where we are uncertain as to the extent of the damage to the tendon, though, an MRI scan may be necessary, which images the soft tissues better than X-rays. When the tendon is simply inflamed and not severely damaged, the problem may or may not be visible on MRI. It depends upon the severity of the condition.




Nonsurgical Treatment

Achilles tendinitis can typically be treated at home by following the R.I.C.E. treatment method. Rest. Rest the tendon by avoiding activities that irritate the tendon or increase swelling. However, this does not mean you should be completely inactive for long periods of time, as this can cause stiffness in your joints. It?s still important to stretch in order to maintain strength and flexibility and partake in activities that don?t put direct pressure on the tendon, such as bicycling. Ice. Apply ice to the affected area for 20-minutes at a time, every couple hours, as needed, to reduce swelling and pain. Compression. Use compression bandages to help reduce swelling. Elevation. Elevate your ankle above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. It is particularly important to do this at night while you sleep. Simply place a pillow or two under your ankle to keep it elevated. Once the tendon has healed, be sure to gradually return to more strenuous activities. If flattened arches contributed to the injury, wear shoes with appropriate support or inserts to prevent the condition from progressing or recurring. If these non-surgical treatments have not been able to provide relief of symptoms after several months, surgery may be performed to remove inflamed tissue. However, this is not usually recommended unless all other options have been exhausted. Consult your doctor for more information about surgical treatment options.

Achilles Tendonitis




Surgical Treatment

There are three common procedures that doctor preform in order help heal the tendinitis depending on the location of the tendinitis and amount of damage to the tendon, including: Gastrocnemius recession - With this surgery doctors lengthen the calf muscles because the tight muscles increases stress on the Achilles tendon. The procedure is typically done on people who have difficulty flexing their feet even with constant stretching. Debridement and Repair - When there is less than 50% damage in the tendon, it is possible for doctors to remove the injured parts and repair the healthy portions. This surgery is most done for patients who are suffering from bone spurs or arthritis. To repair the tendon doctors may use metal or plastic anchors to help hold the Achilles tendon in place. Patients have to wear a boot or cast for 2 weeks or more, depending and the damage done to the tendon. Debridement with Tendon Transfer - When there is more the 50% damage done to the Achilles tendon, and Achilles tendon transfer is preformed because the remain healthy tissue is not strong enough. The tendon that helps the big toe move is attached to give added strength to the damaged Achilles. After surgery, most patients don?t notice any difference when they walk or run.




Prevention

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of Achilles tendinitis, warm up every time before you exercise or play a sport. Switch up your exercises. Slowly increase the length and intensity of your workouts. Keep your muscles active and stay in shape all year-round. When you see symptoms of Achilles tendinitis, stop whatever activity you are doing and rest.
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