Achilles tendonitis is one of the most common running injuries. The achilles tendon is the large tendon at the back of the ankle. It connects the calf muscles made up of the
gastrocnemius and soleus to the heel bone or calcaneus. It provides the power in the push off phase of walking and running where huge forces are transmitted through the achilles tendon. Achilles
tendonitis is often now referred to as achilles tendinopathy. This is because the term tendinopathy covers all types of overuse achilles tendon injury. Strictly speaking tendonitis suggests an
inflammatory condition of the tendon but in reality few achilles tendon injuries are actually down to pure inflammation. Soleus muscleThe main finding, particularly in older athletes is usually
degeneration of the tissue with a loss of normal fibre structure. Other very similar conditions may actually be due to inflammation or degeneration of the tendon sheath which surrounds the tendon
rather than the achilles tendon itself. In addition to being either chronic or acute, achilles tendonitis can also be at the attachment point to the heel called insertional achilles tendonitis or in
the mid-portion of the tendon typically around 4cm above the heel. Healing of the achilles tendon is often slow, due to its poor blood supply.
Achilles tendinitis is typically not related to a specific injury. The problem results from repetitive stress to the tendon. This often happens when we push our bodies to do too much, too soon, but
other factors can make it more likely to develop tendinitis, including a bone spur that has developed where the tendon attaches to the heel bone, Sudden increase in the amount or intensity of
exercise activity-for example, increasing the distance you run every day by a few miles without giving your body a chance to adjust to the new distance, Tight calf muscles, Having tight calf muscles
and suddenly starting an aggressive exercise program can put extra stress on the Achilles tendon, Bone spur-Extra bone growth where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone can rub against the
tendon and cause pain.
In most cases, symptoms of Achilles tendonitis, also sometimes called Achilles tendinitis, develop gradually. Pain may be mild at first and worsen with continued activity. Repeated or continued
stress on the Achilles tendon increases inflammation and may cause it to rupture. Partial or complete rupture results in traumatic damage and severe pain, making walking virtually impossible and
requiring a long recovery period. Patients with tendinosis may experience a sensation of fullness in the back of the lower leg or develop a hard knot of tissue (nodule).
If you think you might have Achilles tendonitis, check in with your doctor before it gets any worse. Your doc will ask about the activities you've been doing and will examine your leg, foot, ankle,
and knee for range of motion. If your pain is more severe, the doctor may also make sure you haven't ruptured (torn) your Achilles tendon. To check this, the doc might have you lie face down and bend
your knee while he or she presses on your calf muscles to see if your foot flexes. Any flexing of the foot means the tendon is at least partly intact. It's possible that the doctor might also order
an X-ray or MRI scan of your foot and leg to check for fractures, partial tears of the tendon, or signs of a condition that might get worse. Foot and ankle pain also might be a sign of other overuse
injuries that can cause foot and heel pain, like plantar fasciitis and Sever's disease. If you also have any problems like these, they also need to be treated.
Make sure that the tendon is not torn through and through. If it is severed, you must see a doctor immediately so that the tendon can be repaired. Severe injuries can sever a tendon, without a skin
laceration being present. Testing involves moving the toes and foot to see if the tendon moves. If the tendon does not appear to move, it may be severed (comparing the injured tendon and its movement
to the same tendon on the uninjured foot may help). Very sharp pain, a sudden pop, or an obvious gap in the structure of the tendon are all signs of a rupture, and should be seen by a doctor as soon
as possible. If there is extreme swelling of the leg, and pain (out of proportion to the amount of trauma received), you may have sustained a vascular injury. A doctor must see this type of injury
immediately. If you are not sure, see a doctor. If you have multiple injured areas see a doctor immediately, in order to prevent excessive swelling and pain. If the above exam is negative, then you
may proceed with self-treatment. (However, if you are not sure of the extent of your injury, you should consult your doctor immediately). The sooner you begin to treat your injury by following
"R.I.C.E.", the better you will feel. Rest is very important. Take off your shoe, get off your feet, and relax. Ice should be applied as soon as possible. Never apply ice directly on the injured
area, as the cold may make the pain worse. Ice should be applied close to the injured site, between the heart and the injury, so that as the blood flows under the ice, it will be cooled. This cool
blood flowing into the injured area will help to reduce the swelling and pain. Apply the ice, wrapped in a cloth or over an elastic bandage, to the foot for 15 minutes, every 1-2 hours, for up to 3
days after an injury. If the ice is uncomfortable, or causes increased pain, do not continue to use it, and see a doctor. If you have poor circulation do not use ice, as this may cause a serious
problem. c. Compression is used to limit swelling, and to give support to the injured area. Compression should be applied to the entire foot, starting first at the toes and working back to the ankle.
If it is applied just to the injured area, increased swelling will occur in front and behind the wrapping. Compression should be applied with a 3-inch elastic bandage, beginning around the base of
all the toes, and then going around the foot and ankle. Continue over the calf muscle when possible. Compression reduces motion in the injured area and foot, and this decreases the pain, and allows
for quicker healing. The bandage should not be so tight that it causes increased pain or throbbing in the toes or foot. It should be comfortable! Do not remove the elastic bandage for the first 12
hours, unless it becomes too tight, or the pain increases, or the toes become pale, blue, or cool. If any of these things happen, immediately remove all bandages, and leave them off for several
hours. The normal color and temperature of the toes should return immediately. If not, see a doctor immediately! Continue until the swelling and pain subsides; it could take from several days to
several weeks. d. Elevation of the leg will aid in reducing swelling and pain. Blood rushes to an injured area to bring increased blood cells, that aid in healing. Gravity will also force blood to
the injured area. Too many cells and too much fluid will apply pressure to the injured nerves and tissues, and cause increased pain and delayed healing. Keep your foot elevated so that it is at least
parallel to the ground, or higher if it is comfortable. Do this for at least 48 hours, or until the throbbing subsides, when you lower the leg.
Following the MRI or ultrasound scan of the Achilles tendon the extent of the degenerative change would have been defined. The two main types of operation for Achilles tendinosis are either a
stripping of the outer sheath (paratenon) and longitudinal incisions into the tendon (known as a debridement) or a major excision of large portions of the tendon, the defects thus created then being
reconstructed using either allograft (donor tendon, such as Wright medical graft jacket) or more commonly using a flexor hallucis longus tendon transfer. In cases of Achilles tendonosis with more
minor degrees of degenerative change the areas can be stimulated to repair itself by incising the tendon, in the line of the fibres, which stimulates an ingrowth of blood vessels and results in the
healing response. With severe Achilles tendonosis, occasionally a large area of painful tendon needs to be excised which then produces a defect which requires filling. This is best done by
transferring the flexor hallucis longus muscle belly and tendon, which lies adjacent to the Achilles tendon. This results in a composite/double tendon after the operation, with little deficit from
the transferred tendon.
Regardless of whether the Achilles injury is insertional or non-insertional, a great method for lessening stress on the Achilles tendon is flexor digitorum longus exercises. This muscle, which
originates along the back of the leg and attaches to the tips of the toes, lies deep to the Achilles. It works synergistically with the soleus muscle to decelerate the forward motion of the leg
before the heel leaves the ground during propulsion. This significantly lessens strain on the Achilles tendon as it decelerates elongation of the tendon. Many foot surgeons are aware of the
connection between flexor digitorum longus and the Achilles tendon-surgical lengthening of the Achilles (which is done to treat certain congenital problems) almost always results in developing hammer
toes as flexor digitorum longus attempts to do the job of the recently lengthened tendon. Finally, avoid having cortisone injected into either the bursa or tendon-doing so weakens the tendon as it
shifts production of collagen from type one to type three. In a recent study published in the Journal of Bone Joint Surgery(9), cortisone was shown to lower the stress necessary to rupture the
Achilles tendon, and was particularly dangerous when done on both sides, as it produced a systemic effect that further weakened the tendon.