Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury common in many sports that require lots of running and jumping. Once this condition becomes more chronic adhesions that form along the tissues and the injury becomes more of a tendinosis. Treatment for a tendinosis is much different that for a tendinitis, so it is important to recognize what stage the injury is at in order to treat it appropriately. An acute achilles tendinitis involves inflammation and would be treated with rest, ice, etc. Once the inflammation has decreased, research shows that eccentric exercises are beneficial. Once there is tendinosis, it becomes imperative to break up those adhesions with ART and prescribe appropriate stretches and exercises.
Tight or fatigued calf muscles, which transfer the burden of running to the Achilles. This can be due to poor stretching, rapidly increasing distance, or over-training excessive hill running or speed work, both of which stress the Achilles more than other types of running. Inflexible running shoes, which, in some cases, may force the Achilles to twist. Runners who overpronate (feet rotate too far inward on impact) are most susceptible to Achilles tendinitis.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include weakness in the leg, slight pain above the heel in the lower leg after activity, feeling of stiffness in the leg that usually appears in the morning and lessens throughout the day, bad pain the day after exercising, pain as you climb stairs or go uphill, swelling in the area of the Achilles tendon, creaking or cracking noise when you press on the Achilles tendon.
On examination, an inflamed or partially torn Achilles tendon is tender when squeezed between the fingers. Complete tears are differentiated by sudden, severe pain and inability to walk on the extremity. A palpable defect along the course of the tendon. A positive Thompson test (while the patient lies prone on the examination table, the examiner squeezes the calf muscle; this maneuver by the examiner does not cause the normally expected plantar flexion of the foot).
Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. In general terms, the longer the symptoms are present before treatment begins, the longer the timeframe until complete recovery is achieved. Complete recovery can take between three and nine months. Initial treatment of Achilles tendonitis includes, Rest, to avoid further injury to the area. Ice, to reduce inflammation, Elevation, to reduce swelling. Bandaging or strapping, to support the area and restrict movement of the tendon. Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and inflammation. (Cortisone (steroid) injections to reduce inflammation are not usually recommended as they may weaken the tendon and increase the risk of rupture). Other treatments include, Physiotherapy, Physiotherapy plays an important role in the treatment of Achilles tendonitis. This generally focuses on two main areas – treatment and rehabilitation. Treatment may involve such techniques as massage, ultrasound, acupuncture and gentle stretching. Rehabilitation involves the development of an individualised recovery programme, the most important aspect of which is strengthening. Strengthening of the muscles surrounding the Achilles tendon helps to promote healing in the tendon itself. Strengthening is achieved through the use of specific exercises, which will be taught by the physiotherapist. One such exercise is eccentric loading, which involves contracting the calf muscle while it is being stretched. It is common for the rehabilitation programme to take up to three months. Podiatry, including gait analysis and the fitting of orthotic devices to support the foot and reduce stress on the tendon, may be recommended. For cases of Achilles tendonitis that do not respond to initial treatment, casting or splinting of the affected foot may be recommended to allow it to rest completely.
Surgical treatment for tendons that fail to respond to conservative treatment can involve several procedures, all of which are designed to irritate the tendon and initiate a chemically mediated healing response. These procedures range from more simple procedures such as percutaneous tenotomy61 to open procedures and removal of tendon pathology. Percutaneous tenotomy resulted in 75% of patients reporting good or excellent results after 18 months. Open surgery for Achilles tendinopathy has shown that the outcomes are better for those tendons without a focal lesion compared with those with a focal area of tendinopathy.62 At 7 months after surgery, 67% had returned to physical activity, 88% from the no-lesion group and 50% from the group with a focal lesion.
If you’re just getting started with your training, be sure to stretch after running, and start slowly, increasing your mileage by no more than 10% per week. Strengthen your calf muscles with exercises such as toe raises. Work low-impact cross-training activities, such as cycling and swimming, into your training.