Achilles Tendinitis

Overview

Achilles TendinitisAchilles tendinitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the fibrous tissue that connects the heel to the calf muscles. This condition is often caused by irritation of the tendon and typically affects those who play sports. However, older individuals who suffer from arthritis may also be affected. Achilles tendinitis is typically the first stage of an Achilles tendon injury and should be treated right away. Without treatment, the tendon can tear or rupture, which may require surgery.


Causes

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.


Symptoms

Achilles tendonitis may be felt as a burning pain at the beginning of activity, which gets less during activity and then worsens following activity. The tendon may feel stiff first thing in the morning or at the beginning of exercise. Achilles tendonitis usually causes pain, stiffness, and loss of strength in the affected area. The pain may get worse when you use your Achilles tendon. You may have more pain and stiffness during the night or when you get up in the morning. The area may be tender, red, warm, or swollen if there is inflammation. You may notice a crunchy sound or feeling when you use the tendon.


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

Tendon inflammation should initially be treated with ice, gentle calf muscle stretching, and use of NSAIDs. A heel lift can be placed in the shoes to take tension off the tendon. Athletes should be instructed to avoid uphill and downhill running until the tendon is not painful and to engage in cross-training aerobic conditioning. Complete tears of the Achilles tendon usually require surgical repair.

Achilles Tendon


Surgical Treatment

Percutaneous Achilles Tendon Surgery. During this procedure the surgeon will make 3 to 4 incisions (approx. 2.5 cm long) on both sides of the Achilles tendon. Small forceps are used to free the tendon sheath (the soft tissue casing around your Achilles tendon) to make room for the surgeon to stitch/suture any tears. Skilled surgeons may perform a percutaneous achilles tendon surgery with ultrasound imaging techniques to allow for blink suturing with stab incisions made by a surgical suture needle. This procedure can be done in 3 different ways depending on the preference and experience of your surgeon. Instead of making several 2.5 cm incisions for this procedure, some surgeons will use guided imaging with an ultrasound to see the Achilles tendon tissue without having to open up your ankle. For this technique, they will use a surgical needle to repeatedly stab your Achilles tendon. These “stab incisions” will allow the surgeon to “blindly” suture your tendon without seeing the actual tissue. As another option – some surgeons will only make 1 to 3 incisions for smaller surgical implements to repair your tendon while relying on imaging ultrasound to see your damaged tissue. During either procedure the use of ultrasound imaging or endoscopic techniques requires a very skilled surgeon.


Prevention

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.

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