Achilles tendinitis can be a very crippling issue for runners - simply because the pain is enough to discourage loading of the foot. It can also be a tricky condition to treat because the tendon is not as heavily vascularized (i.e. more blood flow) as muscle, and therefore lacks healing potential. It is highly recommended that you see a physical therapist as soon as you experience acute symptoms, so chronic tendonosis (which is longer termed and harder to treat) does not set in.
The causes of Achilles tendonitis all appear to be related to excessive stress being transmitted through the tendon. Weak calf muscles, poor ankle range of motion, and excessive pronation have all been connected with the development of Achilles problems.The upshot is that all of these factors, plus training volume and so on, result in damage to the tendon. Much like a bungee cord is made up of tiny strands of rubber aligned together, tendons are comprised of small fiber-like proteins called collagen. Pain in the Achilles tendon is a result of damage to the collagen. Because of this, treatment options should start with ways to address this.
Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include, pain in the back of the heel, difficulty walking, sometimes the pain makes walking impossible, swelling, tenderness and warmth of the Achilles tendon. Achilles tendonitis is graded according to how severe it is, mild - pain in the Achilles tendon during a particular activity (such as running) or shortly after. Moderate - the Achilles tendon may swell. In some cases, a hard lump (nodule) may form in the tendon. Severe - any type of activity that involves weight bearing causes pain of the Achilles tendon. Very occasionally, the Achilles tendon may rupture (tear). When an Achilles tendon ruptures, it is said to feel like a hard whack on the heel.
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.
Conservative management of Achilles tendinosis and paratenonitis includes the following. Physical therapy. Eccentric exercises are the cornerstone of strengthening treatment, with most patients achieving 60-90% pain relief. Orthotic therapy in Achilles tendinosis consists of the use of heel lifts. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Tendinosis tends to be less responsive than paratenonitis to NSAIDs. Steroid injections. Although these provide short-term relief of painful symptoms, there is concern that they can weaken the tendon, leading to rupture. Vessel sclerosis. Platelet-rich plasma injections. Nitric oxide. Shock-wave therapy. Surgery may also be used in the treatment of Achilles tendinosis and paratenonitis. In paratenonitis, fibrotic adhesions and nodules are excised, freeing up the tendon. Longitudinal tenotomies may be performed to decompress the tendon. Satisfactory results have been obtained in 75-100% of cases. In tendinosis, in addition to the above procedures, the degenerated portions of the tendon and any osteophytes are excised. Haglund?s deformity, if present, is removed. If the remaining tendon is too thin and weak, the plantaris or flexor hallucis longus tendon can be weaved through the Achilles tendon to provide more strength. The outcome is generally less favorable than it is in paratenonitis surgery.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if, after around six months, other treatments haven?t worked and your symptoms are having an impact on your day-to-day life. Surgery involves removing damaged areas of your tendon and repairing them.
Warm up slowly by running at least one minute per mile slower than your usual pace for the first mile. Running backwards during your first mile is also a very effective way to warm up the Achilles, because doing so produces a gentle eccentric load that acts to strengthen the tendon. Runners should also avoid making sudden changes in mileage, and they should be particularly careful when wearing racing flats, as these shoes produce very rapid rates of pronation that increase the risk of Achilles tendon injury. If you have a tendency to be stiff, spend extra time stretching. If you?re overly flexible, perform eccentric load exercises preventively. Lastly, it is always important to control biomechanical alignment issues, either with proper running shoes and if necessary, stock or custom orthotics.