All About Achilles Tendinitis

Overview

Achilles TendinitisThe Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. Tendons are long, tough cords of tissue that connect muscle to bone. The Achilles tendon is located in the back of the foot and connects your heel bone to your calf muscle. It helps you to walk, run and jump. The Achilles tendon is able to endure stress, but sometimes injury can occur to the tendon when overly stressed. Overuse of the Achilles tendon may cause the tendon to swell, become irritated, inflamed and cause pain. This is Achilles tendinitis. It is a common sports injury related to running, but can happen to anyone who puts a lot of stress on their feet (e.g.: basketball players and dancers). If you do not get treatment for Achilles tendinitis, the problem can become chronic and make it difficult for you to walk.

Causes

Achilles tendonitis occurs in sports such as running, jumping, dancing and tennis. Other risk factors include participation in a new sporting activity or increasing the intensity of participation. Poor running technique, excessive pronation of the foot and poorly fitting footwear may contribute. In cyclists, the problem may be a low saddle, which causes extra dorsiflexion of the ankle when pedalling. Quinolone antibiotics (eg, ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin) can cause inflammation of tendons and predispose them to rupture.

Symptoms

Gradual onset of pain and stiffness over the tendon, which may improve with heat or walking and worsen with strenuous activity. Tenderness of the tendon on palpation. There may also be crepitus and swelling. Pain on active movement of the ankle joint. Ultrasound or MRI may be necessary to differentiate tendonitis from a partial tendon rupture.

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

Initial treatment consists of medication and ice to relieve the pain, stretching and strengthening exercises, and modification of the activity that initially caused the problem. These all can be carried out at home, although referral to a physical therapist or athletic trainer for further evaluation and treatment may be helpful. Occasionally a walking boot or cast may be recommended to immobilize the tendon, allowing the inflammation to settle down. For less severe cases or after immobilization, a heel lift may be prescribed to reduce stress to the tendon. This may be followed by an elastic bandage wrap of the ankle and Achilles tendon. Orthotics (arch supports) may be prescribed or recommended by your physician. Surgery to remove the inflamed tendon lining or degenerated tendon tissue is rarely necessary and has shown less than predictable results.

Achilles Tendinitis

Surgical Treatment

Percutaneous Achilles Tendon Surgery. During this procedure the surgeon will make 3 to 4 incisions (approx. 2.5 cm long) on both sides of the Achilles tendon. Small forceps are used to free the tendon sheath (the soft tissue casing around your Achilles tendon) to make room for the surgeon to stitch/suture any tears. Skilled surgeons may perform a percutaneous achilles tendon surgery with ultrasound imaging techniques to allow for blink suturing with stab incisions made by a surgical suture needle. This procedure can be done in 3 different ways depending on the preference and experience of your surgeon. Instead of making several 2.5 cm incisions for this procedure, some surgeons will use guided imaging with an ultrasound to see the Achilles tendon tissue without having to open up your ankle. For this technique, they will use a surgical needle to repeatedly stab your Achilles tendon. These "stab incisions" will allow the surgeon to "blindly" suture your tendon without seeing the actual tissue. As another option - some surgeons will only make 1 to 3 incisions for smaller surgical implements to repair your tendon while relying on imaging ultrasound to see your damaged tissue. During either procedure the use of ultrasound imaging or endoscopic techniques requires a very skilled surgeon.

Prevention

Do strengthening and stretching exercises to keep calf muscles strong and flexible. Keep your hamstring muscles flexible by stretching. Warm up and stretch adequately before participating in any sports. Always increase the intensity and duration of training gradually. Do not continue an exercise if you experience pain over the tendon. Wear properly fitted running and other sports shoes, including properly fitted arch supports if your feet roll inwards excessively (over-pronate).

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