Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis, is a painful and often debilitating inflammation of the Achilles tendon (heel cord). The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. It is located in the back of the lower leg, attaches to the heel bone (calcaneus), and connects the leg muscles to the foot. The Achilles tendon gives us the ability to rise up on our toes, facilitating the act of walking, and Achilles tendonitis can make walking almost impossible. There are three stages of tendon inflammation, Peritenonitis, Tendinosis, Peritenonitis with tendinosis. Peritenonitis is characterized by localized pain during or following activity. As this condition progresses, pain often develops earlier on during activity, with decreased activity, or while at rest. Tendinosis is a degenerative condition that usually does not produce symptoms (i.e., is asymptomatic). It may cause swelling or a hard knot of tissue (nodule) on the back of the leg. Peritenonitis with tendinosis results in pain and swelling with activity. As this condition progresses, partial or complete tendon rupture may occur. The overall incidence of Achilles tendonitis is unknown. The condition occurs in approximately 6-18% of runners, and also is more common in athletes, especially in sports that involve jumping (e.g., basketball), and in people who do a lot of walking. Achilles tendonitis that occurs as a result of arthritis in the heel is more common in people who are middle aged and older.
Achilles tendonitis most commonly occurs due to repetitive or prolonged activities placing strain on the Achilles tendon. This typically occurs due to excessive walking, running or jumping activities. Occasionally, it may occur suddenly due to a high force going through the Achilles tendon beyond what it can withstand. This may be due to a sudden acceleration or forceful jump. The condition may also occur following a calf or Achilles tear, following a poorly rehabilitated sprained ankle or in patients with poor foot biomechanics or inappropriate footwear. In athletes, this condition is commonly seen in running sports such as marathon, triathlon, football and athletics.
Gradual onset of pain and stiffness over the tendon, which may improve with heat or walking and worsen with strenuous activity. Tenderness of the tendon on palpation. There may also be crepitus and swelling. Pain on active movement of the ankle joint. Ultrasound or MRI may be necessary to differentiate tendonitis from a partial tendon rupture.
Physicians usually pinch your Achilles tendon with their fingers to test for swelling and pain. If the tendon itself is inflamed, your physician may be able to feel warmth and swelling around the tissue, or, in chronic cases, lumps of scar tissue. You will probably be asked to walk around the exam room so your physician can examine your stride. To check for complete rupture of the tendon, your physician may perform the Thompson test. Your physician squeezes your calf; if your Achilles is not torn, the foot will point downward. If your Achilles is torn, the foot will remain in the same position. Should your physician require a closer look, these imaging tests may be performed. X-rays taken from different angles may be used to rule out other problems, such as ankle fractures. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic waves to create pictures of your ankle that let physicians more clearly look at the tendons surrounding your ankle joint.
The recommended treatment for Achilles tendinitis consists of icing, gentle stretching, and modifying or limiting activity. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, can reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy and the use of an orthotic (heel lift) can also be helpful. For chronic cases where tendinosis is evident and other methods of treatment have failed, surgery may be recommended to remove and repair the damaged tissue.
Open Achilles Tendon Surgery is the traditional Achilles tendon surgery and remains the ‘gold standard’ of surgery treatments. During this procedure one long incision (10 to 17 cm in length) is made slightly on an angle on the back on your lower leg/heel. An angled incision like this one allows for the patient’s comfort during future recovery during physical therapy and when transitioning back into normal footwear. Open surgery is performed to provide the surgeon with better visibility of the Achilles tendon. This visibility allows the surgeon to remove scar tissue on the tendon, damaged/frayed tissue and any calcium deposits or bone spurs that have formed in the ankle joint. Once this is done, the surgeon will have a full unobstructed view of the tendon tear and can precisely re-align/suture the edges of the tear back together. An open incision this large also provides enough room for the surgeon to prepare a tendon transfer if it’s required. When repairing the tendon, non-absorbale sutures may be placed above and below the tear to make sure that the repair is as strong as possible. A small screw/anchor is used to reattach the tendon back to the heel bone if the Achilles tendon has been ruptured completely. An open procedure with precise suturing improves overall strength of your Achilles tendon during the recovery process, making it less likely to re-rupture in the future.
Do strengthening and stretching exercises to keep calf muscles strong and flexible. Keep your hamstring muscles flexible by stretching. Warm up and stretch adequately before participating in any sports. Always increase the intensity and duration of training gradually. Do not continue an exercise if you experience pain over the tendon. Wear properly fitted running and other sports shoes, including properly fitted arch supports if your feet roll inwards excessively (over-pronate).