Of the 4,000 or so tendons in the human body, the two Achilles tendons that connect the powerful calf muscles to the feet—also known as the “heel cords”—are the thickest and strongest. These tendons are designed to withstand the incredible forces acting upon them every time you walk, run, or jump.
Unfortunately, they are not indestructible. If the tendon endures greater forces than it is conditioned to handle, the fibers may become overstretched, inflamed, weakened, or even torn.
Fortunately, Achilles tendinitis is usually treatable with non-surgical means. However, continuing to aggravate the tendon without allowing it to heal will result in persistent chronic pain, a degenerative thickening of the tendon, formation of bone spurs and calcification, and in some cases a complete tendon rupture.
If pain in the back of your heel is keeping you from participating in or enjoying your activities, call us to schedule an evaluation.
How Can I Identify Achilles Tendinitis?
Some of the most common signs of Achilles tendinitis include:
- Pain in the back of the ankle. Pain is usually concentrated just above the heel, where the tendon inserts into the heel bone.
- A noticeable thickening of the tendon. You may feel a soft, swollen bump along the back of the heel.
- Post-activity pain, soreness, or stiffness. Achilles tendinitis symptoms are often worse after prolonged periods of running, sports, or stair climbing, and not during the activity itself.
- Decreased range of motion and strength. Achilles tendinitis pain may reduce your ability to fully extend and flex your ankle, or push off your foot while walking.
Achilles tendinitis tends to gradually get worse over time if the tendon is not allowed to heal properly. Symptoms may start out minor (such as an occasional ache or stiffness), gradually progressing to pain that is more intense and longer lasting.
It is important to note that the symptoms of Achilles tendinitis can often overlap with other conditions, including bursitis and Haglund’s deformity. It is always wise to receive a professional evaluation and diagnosis before beginning any treatment program.
Who Is at Risk?
Overall, the biggest demographic for Achilles tendinitis is active middle-aged adults. However, Achilles tendinitis can happen to people of all ages and activity levels. Factors that are associated with increased risk include:
- Age. Tendons lose strength and flexibility as you age.
- Biomechanics. People with flat feet, tight calf muscles, or other issues with foot and ankle structure are more likely to overwork their Achilles tendons.
- Activity. Achilles injuries are especially common in “weekend warriors” who overexert themselves once per week or a couple of times per month while otherwise remaining sedentary. They are also common for those who suddenly begin new sports or intense exercise routines without conditioning themselves first.
- Equipment. This includes running, hiking, or engaging in other athletic endeavors in shoes that are ill-fitting, worn-out, or inappropriate for the activity.
Treating Achilles Tendinitis
Fortunately, most cases of Achilles tendinitis respond well to self-care measures at home. This includes resting from vigorous athletic activity, and often beginning a stretching program designed to improve ankle flexibility and reduce stress on the Achilles tendon.
Contrast treatments are also a simple and effective method of getting pain under control, by reducing the inflammation within the tendon, and allowing you to focus on your treatment and recovery.
Based on the root causes of your Achilles tendinitis, we may also recommend a pair of medical-grade arch supports or, if necessary, custom orthotics. These tools can help stabilize your feet and ankles and correct any abnormal biomechanical motion that may be contributing to your tendon pain.
In rare cases, surgery might be required for a tendon that has been significantly damaged, or to remove bone spurs that have developed. However, this is considered a last resort, pursued only if more than 6 months of conservative treatments fail to resolve symptoms.
Preventing Future Tendon Problems
Achilles tendinitis is an injury that can return again and again, even after successful treatment, if you do not take the appropriate steps to prevent it. To reduce your risk for recurrence you should:
- Always wear appropriate footwear for your activities
- Always wear any prescribed arch supports or orthotics as directed
- Stretch your feet and calves daily
- If starting a new exercise routine or sport, begin at a slow pace and increase the intensity of your activity gradually over several weeks
- Try to stay active throughout the week, instead of only on weekends
- Cross-train in multiple exercises, including low-impact activities such as swimming or cycling
Do not give your Achilles tendinitis a chance to become worse or allow it to dictate the terms of your daily life. For effective treatment options, please call the team at InStride Crystal Coast Podiatry in New Bern today at (252) 638-4700.