What Could We Do About Achilles Tendon Pain ?

Overview

Achilles TendonThe Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in your body, connecting your calf muscles to the back of your heel. Virtually all of the force generated when you ?toe off? the ground during running is transmitted by the Achilles, and this force can be as much as three times your body weight. And the faster you run, the more strain you put on the Achilles tendon. As such, it?s prone to injury in many runners, but particularly those who do a lot of fast training, uphill running, or use a forefoot-striking style. Achilles tendon injuries account for 5-12% of all running injuries, and occur disproportionately in men. This may be because of the faster absolute speeds men tend to train at, or may be due to other biomechanical factors.

Causes

The calf is under a lot of strain when running: it is not only put on stretch during landing of the foot, but it also has to produce the tension needed to support body weight and absorb the shock of landing. This is what is called an ?eccentric load?. Excessive eccentric loading - either by way of a dramatic increase in mileage, or excessive hill running, or faulty running posture - could very well be the cause of a runner?s achilles tendinitis. The calf strain translates downward into the achilles tendon where it attaches to the heel, and inflammation ensues. Inflammation then causes scarring and fibrosis of tissues, which in turn inflicts pain upon stretching or use. Risk factors for Achilles tendinitis also include spending prolonged amounts of time standing or walking.

Symptoms

Achilles tendinitis symptoms present as mild to severe pain or swelling near the ankle. The pain may lead to weakness and decreased mobility, symptoms that increase gradually while walking or running. Over time, the pain worsens, and stiffness in the tendon may be noted in the morning. Mild activity may provide relief. Physical exam may reveal an audible cracking sound when the Achilles tendon is palpated. The lower leg may exhibit weakness. A ruptured or torn Achilles tendon is severely painful and warrants immediate medical attention. The signs of a ruptured or torn Achilles tendon include. Acute, excruciating pain. Impaired mobility, unable to point the foot downward or walk on the toes. Weight bearing or walking on the affected side is not possible.

Diagnosis

In diagnosing Achilles tendonitis or tendonosis, the surgeon will examine the patient?s foot and ankle and evaluate the range of motion and condition of the tendon. The extent of the condition can be further assessed with x-rays or other imaging modalities.

Nonsurgical Treatment

As with all conditions, your Doctor should be consulted. Even minor symptoms can represent significant damage to the Achilles tendon. It is recommended that medical advice be sought as soon as symptoms are experienced. Applying ice to the injury on a regular basis can reduce inflammation associated with Achilles Tendonosis. Following the initial injury, ice should be applied for periods of 15 minutes every hour. Resting the injured ankle may be necessary. This can be a problem for athletes who need to train regularly. The degree of rest required depends on the severity and type of Achilles Tendonosis. Your Health Care Professional will advise you about what activities should be limited while the injury is repairing. Fast uphill and downhill running is not advised while an Achilles Tendinosis injury is healing. Anti-inflammatory, analgesic medications such as those containing aspirin may help control pain and inflammation. Self-massage with heat-inducing creams and liniments may be of assistance. Wearing heel-lifts or pads in shoes can reduce the tension in the Achilles tendon. Physiotherapy may assist in the repair of a damaged Achilles tendon. Physiotherapists may recommend exercises to strengthen the tendon to reduce the chances of future injury. Regular stretching of the hamstring muscles (at the back of the calf) can help the repair process. This should only be done when the injury has repaired enough not to cause pain during this stretching. Taping the ankle and wearing appropriate running shoes may help to control movement in the ankle and prevent further injury.

Achilles Tendon

Surgical Treatment

Around 1 in 4 people who have persisting pain due to Achilles tendinopathy has surgery to treat the condition. Most people have a good result from surgery and their pain is relieved. Surgery involves either of the following, removing nodules or adhesions (parts of the fibres of the tendon that have stuck together) that have developed within the damaged tendon. Making a lengthways cut in the tendon to help to stimulate and encourage tendon healing. Complications from surgery are not common but, if they do occur, can include problems with wound healing.

Prevention

The following measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis. Adequately stretch and warm up prior to exercise. Warm down and stretch after exercise. Choose footwear carefully and use footwear appropriate to the sport being undertaken. Use orthotic devices in footwear to correctly support the foot. Exercise within fitness levels and follow a sensible exercise programme. Develop strong, flexible calf muscles.

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