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Achilles Tendon

Working with With Achilles Tendinitis

Overview

Achilles TendonitisAchilles tendinitis is an overuse injury of the Achilles (uh-KIL-eez) tendon, the band of tissue that connects calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to your heel bone. Under too much stress, the tendon tightens and is forced to work too hard. This causes it to become inflamed (that?s Achilles tendinitis), and, over time, can produce a covering of scar tissue, which is less flexible than the tendon. If the inflamed Achilles continues to be stressed, it can tear or rupture. Achilles tendinitis most commonly occurs in runners who have suddenly increased the intensity or duration of their runs. It?s also common in middle-aged people who play sports, such as tennis or basketball, only on the weekends. Most cases of Achilles tendinitis can be treated with relatively simple, at-home care under your doctor?s supervision. Self-care strategies are usually necessary to prevent recurring episodes. More-serious cases of Achilles tendinitis can lead to tendon tears (ruptures) that may require surgical repair.

Causes

The Achilles tendon is a strong band of connective tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. When the muscle contracts, the tendon transmits the power of this contraction to the heel, producing movement. The Achilles tendon moves through a protective sheath and is made up of thousands of tiny fibres. It is thought that Achilles tendonitis develops when overuse of the tendon causes the tiny fibres that make up the tendon to tear. This causes inflammation, pain and swelling. As the tendon swells it can begin to rub against the sheath surrounding it, irritating the sheath and causing it too to become inflamed and swollen. It has a poor blood supply, which can make it susceptible to injury and can make recovery from injury slow. Factors that can lead to the development of Achilles tendonitis include, tight or weak calf muscles, rapidly increasing the amount or intensity of exercise. Hill climbing or stair climbing exercises. Changes in footwear, particularly changing from wearing high-heeled shoes to wearing flat shoes. Wearing inadequate or inappropriate shoes for the sporting activity being undertaken. Not adequately warming up and stretching prior to exercise. A sudden sharp movement that causes the calf muscles to contract and the stress on the Achilles tendon to be increased. This can cause the tendon fibres to tear.

Symptoms

The main complaint associated with Achilles tendonitis is pain behind the heel. The pain is often most prominent in an area about 2-4 centimeters above where the tendon attaches to the heel. In this location, called the watershed zone of the tendon, the blood supply to the tendon makes this area particularly susceptible. Patients with Achilles tendonitis usually experience the most significant pain after periods of inactivity. Therefore patients tend to experience pain after first walking in the morning and when getting up after sitting for long periods of time. Patients will also experience pain while participating in activities, such as when running or jumping. Achilles tendonitis pain associated with exercise is most significant when pushing off or jumping.

Diagnosis

Examination of the achilles tendon is inspection for muscle atrophy, swelling, asymmetry, joint effusions and erythema. Atrophy is an important clue to the duration of the tendinopathy and it is often present with chronic conditions. Swelling, asymmetry and erythema in pathologic tendons are often observed in the examination. Joint effusions are uncommon with tendinopathy and suggest the possibility of intra-articular pathology. Range of motion testing, strength and flexibility are often limited on the side of the tendinopathy. Palpation tends to elicit well-localized tenderness that is similar in quality and location to the pain experienced during activity. Physical examinations of the Achilles tendon often reveals palpable nodules and thickening. Anatomic deformities, such as forefoot and heel varus and excessive pes planus or foot pronation, should receive special attention. These anatomic deformities are often associated with this problem. In case extra research is wanted, an echography is the first choice of examination when there is a suspicion of tendinosis. Imaging studies are not necessary to diagnose achilles tendonitis, but may be useful with differential diagnosis. Ultrasound is the imaging modality of first choice as it provides a clear indication of tendon width, changes of water content within the tendon and collagen integrity, as well as bursal swelling. MRI may be indicated if diagnosis is unclear or symptoms are atypical. MRI may show increased signal within the Achilles.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Treatment options might include anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen which might help with acute achilles inflammation and pain but has not been proven to be beneficial long term and may even inhibit healing. If the injury is severe then a plaster cast might be applied to immobilize the tendon. Use of electrotherapy such as ultrasound treatment, laser therapy and extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) may be beneficial in reducing pain and encouraging healing. Applying sports massage techniques can mobilze the tissues or the tendon itself and help stretch the calf muscles. Some might give a steroid injection however an injection directly into the tendon is not recommended. Some specialists believe this can increase the risk of a total rupture of the tendon in future. One of the most effective forms of treatment for achilles tendonitis is a full rehabilitation program consisting of eccentric strengthening exercises. There is now considerable evidence suggesting the effectiveness of slow eccentric rehabilitation exercises for curing achilles tendon pain.

Achilles Tendon

Surgical Treatment

Mini-Open Achilles Tendon Repair. During a mini-open Achilles tendon repair surgery, 2 to 8 small stab incisions are made to pull the edges of the tendon tear together and suture the torn edges to repair the damage. During this procedure the surgeon will make one 3 to 4 cm long incision on the back of your ankle and 2 to 4 smaller vertical incisions around the long incision. These smaller veritical incisions are made with a pair of surgical scissors and are commonly referred to as “stab incisions”. Once the incisions are opened up, the surgeon will place precise sutures with non-absorbable stitches to strengthen the damaged Achilles tendon tissue. This suturing technique reduces the amount of scar tissue on the tendon after surgery and provides better surface healing of the skin. Unlike the traditional method of an open surgery, this procedure has less risks and complications involved. To learn about all risks you may face be sure to speak to your doctor.

Prevention

So what are some of the things you can do to help prevent Achilles Tendinitis? Warm Up properly: A good warm up is essential in getting the body ready for any activity. A well structured warm up will prepare your heart, lungs, muscles, joints and your mind for strenuous activity. Balancing Exercises, Any activity that challenges your ability to balance, and keep your balance, will help what’s called proprioception, your body’s ability to know where its limbs are at any given time. Plyometric Training, Plyometric drills include jumping, skipping, bounding, and hopping type activities. These explosive types of exercises help to condition and prepare the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the lower leg and ankle joint. Footwear, Be aware of the importance of good footwear. A good pair of shoes will help to keep your ankles stable, provide adequate cushioning, and support your foot and lower leg during the running or walking motion. Cool Down properly, Just as important as warming up, a proper cool down will not only help speed recovery, but gives your body time to make the transition from exercise to rest. Rest, as most cases of Achilles tendinitis are caused by overuse, rest is probably the single biggest factor in preventing Achilles injury. Avoid over training, get plenty of rest; and prevent Achilles tendinitis.