Achilles tendonitis is inflammation and tendonosis is degeneration and irregular healing of the achilles tendon. The achilles tendon is the large tendon located in the back of the leg that inserts into the heel. The pain caused by achilles tendonitis/osis can develop gradually without a history of trauma. The pain can be a shooting pain, burning pain, or even an extremely piercing pain. Achilles tendonitis/osis should not be left untreated due to the danger that the tendon can become weak and rupture requiring surgery.
Achilles tendinitis is caused by repetitive or intense strain on the Achilles tendon, the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. This tendon is used when you walk, run, jump or push up on your toes. The structure of the Achilles tendon weakens with age, which can make it more susceptible to injury – particularly in people who may participate in sports only on the weekends or who have suddenly increased the intensity of their running programs.
Paratenonitis presents in younger people. Symptoms start gradually and spontaneously. Aching and burning pain is noted especially with morning activity. It may improve slightly with initial activity, but becomes worse with further activity. It is aggravated by exercise. Over time less exercise is required to cause the pain. The Achilles tendon is often enlarged, warm and tender approximately 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Sometimes friction is noted with gentle palpation of the tendon during ankle motion. Tendinosis presents similarly but typically in middle-aged people. If severe pain and limited walking ability are present, it may indicate a partial tear of the tendon.
X-rays are usually normal in patients with Achilles tendonitis, but are performed to evaluate for other possible conditions. Occasionally, an MRI is needed to evaluate a patient for tears within the tendon. If there is a thought of surgical treatment an MRI may be helpful for preoperative evaluation and planning.
Initial treatment consists of medication and ice to relieve the pain, stretching and strengthening exercises, and modification of the activity that initially caused the problem. These all can be carried out at home, although referral to a physical therapist or athletic trainer for further evaluation and treatment may be helpful. Occasionally a walking boot or cast may be recommended to immobilize the tendon, allowing the inflammation to settle down. For less severe cases or after immobilization, a heel lift may be prescribed to reduce stress to the tendon. This may be followed by an elastic bandage wrap of the ankle and Achilles tendon. Orthotics (arch supports) may be prescribed or recommended by your physician. Surgery to remove the inflamed tendon lining or degenerated tendon tissue is rarely necessary and has shown less than predictable results.
The type of surgery you will have depends on the type of injury you are faced with. The longer you have waited to have surgery will also be a factor that determines what type of surgery is needed. With acute (recent) tearing the separation in your Achilles tendon is likely to be very minimal. If you have an acute tear you may qualify for less invasive surgery (such as a mini-open procedure). Surgeons will always choose a shorter, less invasive procedure if it is possible to do so. Most surgeons know that a less complicated procedure will have less trauma to the tendon and a much quicker rate of recovery after the surgery.
As with all injuries, prevention is your best defense especially with injuries that are as painful and inconvenient as Achilles tendonitis. Options for how to prevent Achilles tendonitis include, stretching- Stretching properly, starting slowly, and increasing gradually will be critical if you want to avoid Achilles tendonitis. To help maintain flexibility in the ankle joint, begin each day with a series of stretches and be certain to stretch prior to, and after, any exercise or excessive physical activity. Orthotics and Heel Support- Bio-mechanically engineered inserts and heel cups can be placed in your shoes to correct misalignments or bolster the support of your foot and are available without a prescription. The temporary heel padding that these provide reduces the length that the Achilles tendon stretches each time you step, making it more comfortable to go about your daily routine. Proper Footwear- Low-heeled shoes with good arch support and shock absorption are best for the health of your foot. Look into heel wedges and other shoe inserts to make sure that your everyday foot mechanics are operating under ideal conditions.