The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, running along the back of your leg from your calf to your heel. It helps to moves your foot when you walk and run.
Pain and swelling of the tendon commonly occur when it is overused as well as in relation to flat feet or obesity. Of course, there are other things that can cause Achilles tendinitis too, including the following:
- Increased intensity of running workouts.
- Exercising in cold or hilly areas.
- Wearing inappropriate shoes when running.
- Participation in sports or activities that require a lot of pivoting or speed fluctuations.
- Wearing high heeled shoes.
- Ill-fitting shoes.
- Running up hills.
- Failing to warm up properly before exercising.
- Taking certain medications, such as glucocorticoids or fluoroquinolones.
Some people are also more susceptible to Achilles tendinitis than others, including men, older people, people who are training for marathons, those who have high blood pressure or psoriasis, are obese, or who have tight calf muscles.
Signs and Symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis
Pain along the tendon is the most common sign or symptom of Achilles tendinitis. You may experience pain along the tendon when running, walking, or even climbing stairs as the first sign of problems. You might also experience stiffness and swelling in the area as well as warmth in the tendon. In more severe cases you may have difficulty standing. Weakness in the leg is yet another symptom to consider. If you experience one or more of these that persist more than a day or two, it might be wise to visit your physician.
Getting your tendinitis diagnosed will require a visit to your sports medicine doctor who is likely to order x-rays to rule out bone problems, ultrasounds to explore the soft structures in the area, and, perhaps, an MRI so he or she can examine the tendon’s structure and rule out possible other causes, like rheumatoid arthritis. Your doctor will also examine your leg for points of tenderness and to explore the range of motion in your ankle – specifically looking for how well you can flex your foot.
When it moves beyond a tendinitis and becomes an Achilles tendon rupture you will experience different symptoms. According to the Cleveland Clinic, you might experience some of these symptoms when your tendon ruptures:
- Difficulty walking due to severe pain in the back of your ankle.
- Swelling and discoloration in the back of your leg.
- An Inability to stand on your toes.
- Tenderness in the area.
- A “pop” when the tendon tears.
- A gap you can feel in the bank of your ankle where the ends of the tendon have separated.
If you experience these things, you do not need to wait a few days to see if the pain recedes. Call your doctor immediately and explain your symptoms and what is going on.
Preventing Achilles Tendinitis
As with most activity-related injuries, prevention is the best cure. The same holds true with Achilles tendinitis. Consider these things to help you prevent Achilles tendonitis from taking a bite out of your fitness routine.
- Wear shoes that fit properly and provide adequate support for your chosen activities.
- Stretch well to properly warm up before beginning any fitness activities.
- Cross train.
- Increase fitness efforts gradually.
- Engage in exercises to strengthen your calf muscles.
These things will reduce your risks and may prevent the pain of going through Achilles tendonitis.
Managing Achilles Tendinitis
While mild cases of Achilles tendinitis are easily treated with the following therapies, there are some instances where surgery is necessary to repair the damage from a tear or rupture to the tendon.
- Limit physical activity with the affected leg.
- Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Perform strengthening exercises.
- Consider physical therapy.
- Apply compression bandages for added support.
- Use orthotics in your shoes.
- Gentle stretching exercises.
- Ice the area.
- Elevate the leg.
- Changing your physical routine to something less strenuous.
These things each offer some advantages and can help you get back on your feet and ready to go within a few days in most cases. Some physicians may even advise patients to wear a walking boot to brace the leg for eight weeks while the foot and ankle recovery from the injury and the tendon
More invasive treatment options include Platelet Rich Plasma(PRP) injections and steroid injections, in addition to surgery.
The Achilles of legend may have had only one physical weakness. Your Achilles tendon, though, presents a point of vulnerability that can affect your ability to walk, run, and more. If you are suffering from pain in this area, it is better to err on the side of caution and visit your primary care doctor or orthopedic specialist promptly.