Got pain along the back of the leg near the heel? Could be it’s Achilles tendonitis. This common condition often appears in athletes and weekend warriors, or anyone who exercises regularly. Here’s the basic information about Achilles tendonitis, how you can help prevent it and what to do it it does occur, from the Orthopedic Research Clinic of Alaska.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Exercise is great stuff, but overdoing it can cause all sorts of problems. As the largest tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon is used when you jump, run or walk. In other words, your Achilles tendon gets a workout every day, and even more so in many sports like hiking. The tendon is built to withstand stress, but there’s a tipping point at which it becomes inflamed. This kind of overusae injury can sneak up on you, beginning with mild soreness and progressing to almost constant pain.
So What’s Tendonitis?
Tendonitis occurs when a tendon becomes inflamed. The body naturally responds to an injury or disease with inflammation – it’s part of the healing process – and tendonitis may also cause irritation, pain and swelling. When the inflammation becomes chronic, however, it causes problems. Tendonitis in the middle of the Achilles tendon (noninsertional tendonitis) tends to affect younger and more active people and causes pain in the middle of the tendon. When tendonitis affects the area where the tendon attaches to the heel bone, it can occur in people of any age whether they are active or not.
Causes of Achilles Tendonitis
Achilles tendonitis is primarily an overuse injury. Suddenly increasing your exercise routine – especially if you’re a runner – can trigger inflammation. Tight calf muscles increase the risk of Achilles tendonitis, especially if you start or suddenly increase an exercise routine. Even if you don’t increase your exercise level, months or years of exercise can still cause inflammation. Occasionally, bone spurs in the heel bone can cause Achilles tendonitis.
Treatment of Achilles Tendonitis
The first step in treating an overuse injury is rest. Ice can help relieve pain and swelling, as can over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises can reduce stress on the tendon; physical therapy is often helpful. Cortisone injections, proper shoes and orthotics may also be helpful. Conservative treatment make take three to six months. Although not common, surgery may be required if the condition doesn’t respond to conservative therapy after six months.
An Ounce of Prevention
Remember, Achilles tendonitis usually results from overuse, so prevention strategies run along those lines. Start slow when you begin an exercise program and gradually increase your activity. Always warm up before activities that place stress on the Achilles tendon, like hill running. Pay attention to your body – if you start to hurt, stop and rest. Choose well-fitting shoes with good support and heel cushioning. Stretch your calves and Achilles tendons every day. Cross-train with low-impact exercises like swimming.
If you think you have Achilles tendonitis, we can help. Please contact us for questions or to schedule an appointment.