What Is Achilles Tendinitis
It is an overuse injury or condition which the achilles tendon (band of tissue which connect the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to the heel bone), becomes inflamed or irritated due to the forceful impact or over-strain from sports-related activities.
Causes Of Achilles Tendinitis
There are many causes of achilles tendinitis and most of them are generally related to physical activities and stress. If you are an athlete, you are at a higher risk of developing this feet condition because of the high intensity of your chosen activities. It has been noticed that sprinters and marathon runners are highly vulnerable to achilles tendinitis. This is because of the extreme amount of pressure that is exerted on their ankles and feet while running.
Sometimes, it can also be caused by running or walking on ill-maintained running turfs and fields. In fact, many athletes complain of foot and ankle injuries, like the achilles tendinitis due to lack of adequate training facilities. For some sufferers, it could due to improper exercise regime. This is rather common since many amateur runners get themselves into trouble by not following a proper fitness schedule or over-trained themselves.
Besides, athletes are more likely to get their tendons hurt by ignoring or performing proper warm-ups before each exercise exercise. For example, if you are a 100-meter runner, and you choose to run the distance without warming up, you are most likely going to hurt your ankle badly. When you do not warm up, your muscles lose their flexibility and cause difficulty in running.
Wearing ill fitting, worn out footwear is another major cause of achilles tendinitis. This applies to everybody, irrespective of whether you are a sportsperson or a homemaker. If you wear ill fitting shoes and sandals, your ankles and heels will be exposed to rupture and tendinitis. People who increase their workload and physical activities significantly in a very short time are the most vulnerable to foot problems.
For example, if you are running 1 kilometer every day, you cannot just run up to 4 kilometers the very next day. Those who do so will also expose their ankles and tendons to dangerous complications like achilles tendinitis. If you exert extra pressure on the achilles tendon, it is very likely to be inflamed and ruptured.
Signs And Symptoms Of Achilles Tendinitis
There are many signs and symptoms of achilles tendinitis. Some of them may not appear as bothersome complications, but they are indeed responsible for tendon inflammation. Have you ever experienced an abrupt crack on the back of your heels? That is a common sign of achilles tendinitis and most of us choose to ignore somehow. If left untreated, it causes intense pain in the heels and may even disrupt walking.
- Calf or heel pain is another common symptom of achilles tendinitis. Oftentimes, pain in the heel and calf muscles can occur because of an internal injury or stress that may have been inflicted while playing sports or doing exercises. Such injuries should never be ignored, as they may be a potential cause for tendon inflammation.
- If you experience trouble in walking, running, climbing or even standing, chances are that your achilles tendon has become inflamed. Most of the time, we choose to ignore such pain by thinking that it will heal automatically. However, the fact is, it will only get worse if you prolong the diagnosis or treatment.
- Elderly people often experience achilles tendinitis more than young adults and adolescents. Like all human organs, bones and muscles, the achilles tendon is conducive to age and it gets vulnerable to injuries with the passage of time. Think about it, how often does your grandparents complain to you about their swollen heels? Perhaps, it is time to bring them to see a doctor before the condition worsen!
- Tendon rupture is another major cause for achilles tendinitis. This rupture is characterized by a sudden limp in the heels. The pain increases as the patient tries to move his ankle. A ruptured tendon may cause mild to severe pain and create problems in walking, running, jumping or climbing.
- If your lower leg becomes stiff, weak or slow, it indicates that your achilles tendon may have been inflamed. This situation worsens while engaging in physical exercises like running and walking.
Complications Of Achilles Tendinitis
Further complications may develop if the aforementioned symptoms of achilles tendinitis are ignored and not taken seriously. One of the most difficult complications of achilles tendinitis is achilles tendinosis.
Also referred as ‘degenerative tendinopathy’, it is a chronic foot and ankle condition that affects the structure of the tendons and renders it weak. The tendons become vulnerable to damages and they can easily break and tear while performing physical activities.
In this condition, the achilles tendon gradually degenerates and causes serious aberrations in its normal functioning. This complication occurs mostly among middle-aged adults between the ages of 30 to 40 years. A major reason behind the occurrence of achilles tendinosis among people of this age group is lack of athleticism as well as general wear and tear in their tendons.
When these people suddenly start performing heavy-duty tasks, their achilles tendon becomes more susceptible to damages and injuries. Their aged tendons, which are not used to such tasks are at a greater risk of developing achilles tendinosis than active young people.
Achilles tendon rupture is another major complication that is commonly associated with achilles tendinitis. This condition usually occurs due to added stress or through an external force on the achilles tendon, which is located in the heel. A ruptured tendon causes insurmountable pain in the heel and disrupts walking or running.
In some cases, the tendons are ruptured so badly that the sufferer may not be able to stand tiptoed. Tendon muscles are usually ruptured while playing high intensity sports like football, basketball and tennis. Athletes, joggers and divers are also at a high risk of achilles tendon rupture due to the intensity of their activities. Sometimes even a small twist in the tendon can cause a dangerous rupture, which can disrupt regular walking and running activities.
Preventing Achilles Tendinitis
As the age-old proverb goes, prevention is truly better than cure. Nowadays, our lives have become so hectic and stressful that we have exposed our bodies to innumerable diseases and injuries. Despite the advent of technological aids in our daily lives, we still have to perform many tasks physically. As such, performing these daily activities correctly is very important in order to prevent injuries like achilles tendinitis.
Here are a few steps that should be undertaken to prevent the development of achilles tendinitis:
- As achilles tendinitis is associated with achilles tendon, the muscle that connects your calf to the heel bone, it is important to care for it frequently. You should do some light stretching exercises daily to keep your achilles tendon flexible and warmed-up.
- Make a suitable fitness schedule that you are willing to follow daily. You can either hire a personal trainer or join a gymnasium. It is not recommended to follow strenuous fitness regimes initially, as they can hurt your tendons and create muscular complications.
- Take care of your weight by eating a healthy and nutritious diet. Obese and overweight people are at a higher risk of developing achilles tendinitis than people with a normal weight. Perform weight-reducing exercises in a gym or at home with the aid of a personal trainer to keep your weight in check.
- If you are an athlete and worried about developing achilles tendinitis, it is best recommended to follow a carefully devised fitness regime that includes warm-up exercises. Your trainer must look after your warm-up schedule every day before commencing your training. You should also wear appropriate footwear, preferably with insoles and orthotics, to support your arches and heels.
- Another important step to consider is the strengthening of the calf muscles, failing which achilles tendinitis is more likely to affect your feet. You should follow calf muscle exercises like squats, leg presses and leg curls to strengthen them.
Diagnosing Achilles Tendinitis
Achilles tendinitis is diagnosed by experienced doctors, who generally conduct physical exams to understand the gravity of the situation. If you feel that you exhibit some of the symptoms mentioned above, you should immediately consult a doctor and request for a diagnosis. The physician will thereafter ask you a few questions about you symptoms, pains and the time period and will proceed to take the requisite steps to determine the condition.
At first, doctors check the swelling in the tendon manually by touching the affected area. Thereafter, simple tests of the ankle and foot will be conducted to check their locomotion and flexibility. If the doctor notices abnormalities in the foot’s functioning, he or she would diagnose it as achilles tendinitis.
If the problem turns out to be serious, further physical examinations are conducted with the help of ultrasound, X-ray and MRI scans. These methods will detect the gravity of the pain and conclude whether the patient requires a surgical treatment or not.
Treatment Of Achilles Tendinitis
Judging by the aforementioned information, achilles tendinitis sounds like a horrendous condition if early treatment is not being administered! However, small to moderate injuries in achilles tendon heal automatically after sometime. Nevertheless, if your situation is a serious one and if you have understood the symptoms clearly, you may still be able to expedite the healing process.
Here are a few steps that you can undertake to treat achilles tendinitis:
- Avoid strenuous exercises and activities that can create further complications in your tendons. Any amount of extra pressure can lead to tendon rupture and cause insurmountable pain as well as discomfort.
- Frequent running and walking is not recommended until it becomes necessary to do so. Remember, the more pressure you put on your heels, the more serious your injury become.
- Use custom-made insoles and orthotics to support your heel’s arches. In most cases, achilles tendinitis develops because of ill-fitting footwear. Wear comfortable shoes and use insoles to keep your heels safe.
- Exercising is an important precautionary method as well as an effective option for treating achilles tendinitis. Trainers generally create specific exercise schedules for people suffering from achilles tendinitis. Such treatment regimes include calf muscle exercises, aerobic exercises, stretching and foot massage.
- If none of the above methods provide pain relief, you are then recommended to consult your doctor for medicinal treatment. Most of the medicinal treatments consist of anti-inflammatory painkillers that help in reducing the inflammation of achilles tendon. Of course, these products are not without side effects. Therefore, it is recommended to discuss the medicines that you will be taking with the doctor for more information.
- In some extremely serious conditions, where all of the above-mentioned treatments fail to provide more than temporary relief from pain, the only option left with doctors is that of surgery. Though such cases are very rare, surgical treatments are usually the last and best option to treat acute achilles tendinitis.
- In most cases, patients who are diagnosed with ruptured achilles tendons are advised to go for surgical treatments. Two types of surgical methods are usually recommended for treating ruptured achilles tendons, which are open surgery and percutaneous surgery. In the former, a large incision is made on the back of the leg, and in the latter, several incisions are created instead of one.