Achilles tendinitis is a common condition of the foot and ankle that occurs when the large tendon that runs down the back of the lower leg becomes irritated and inflamed. Tendinitis is inflammation of a tendon. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or disease.
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body and it connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. It is used to walk, run, climb stairs, jump and stand on tip toes. However, due to overuse and degeneration, it is prone to tendinitis.
What causes Achilles tendinitis?
Achilles tendinitis is not related to a specific injury and can occur at any time. It is often the result of repetitive stress to the tendon. Factors that make tendinitis more likely to develop include:
- Sudden increase in the amount or intensity of exercise activity: increasing the distance of a run every day by a few miles without giving the body a chance to adjust to more distance for example
- Tight calf muscles: Tight calf muscles can put extra stress on the Achilles tendon, especially when starting an aggressive exercise program
- Bone spurs: Extra bone growth where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone can rub against the tendon and cause pain.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include:
- Pain and stiffness along the Achilles tendon in the morning
- Pain along the tendon or back of the heel that worsens with activity
- Severe pain the day after exercising
- Thickening of the tendon
- Bone spurs
- Swelling that is present all the time and gets worse throughout the day with activity
If you experience a sudden “pop” in the back of your calf or heel, you may have ruptured, or torn, your Achilles tendon. See foot and ankle doctors or visit a Raleigh Orthopaedic Urgent Care immediately if you think you may have torn your Achilles tendon.
The majority of cases of Achilles tendinitis can be treated without surgery. However, even with early treatment, it may take three to six months for pain to completely subside.
Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Rest: decrease or even stop activities that make pain worse. Cross-training activities such as biking, elliptical exercise and swimming are all low-impact options to continue to stay active while treating Achilles tendinitis.
- Ice: Placing ice on the most painful area of the Achilles tendon is helpful and can be done as needed throughout the day for up to 20 minutes at a time.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen reduce pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy at Raleigh Orthopaedic: Raleigh Orthopaedic Therapy Services combines the latest therapy techniques with a continuous learning process, giving our patients the best in rehabilitation services.
- Supportive shoes and orthotics: shoes that are softer at the back of the heel can reduce irritation of the tendon. In addition, heel lifts can take some strain off the tendon.
Surgery should be considered to relieve Achilles tendinitis only if the pain does not improve after 6 months of nonsurgical treatment. The specific type of surgery depends on the location of the tendinitis and the amount of damage to the tendon.
The main factor in surgical recovery is the amount of damage to the tendon. The greater the amount of tendon involved, the longer the recovery period. Physical therapy is an important part of recovery. Many patients require 12 months of rehabilitation before they are pain-free.
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