Concerning Achilles Tendinitis

Overview

Achilles TendonAchilles tendinitis is often a misnomer, as most problems associated with the Achilles tendon are not strictly an inflammatory response. A more appropriate term, which most experts now use, is Achilles tendinopathy which includes, Tendinosis, microtears in the tissues in and around the tendon. Tendinitis, inflammation of the tendon Most cases of Achilles tendon pain is the result of tendinosis. Tendon inflammation (tendinitis) is rarely the cause of tendon pain. Achilles tendinopathy is a common condition that occurs particularly in athletes and can be difficult to treat due to the limited vascular supply of the tendon and the stress within the Achilles tendon with every step. Evidence indicates that treatment incorporating custom foot orthoses can improve this condition by making the foot a more effective lever in gait. A 2008 study reported between 50 and 100% relief (average 92%) from Achilles tendinopathy symptoms with the use of custom foot orthoses.




Causes

Achilles tendonitis is aggravated by activities that repeatedly stress the tendon, causing inflammation. In some cases even prolonged periods of standing can cause symptoms. In many people who have developed achilles tendonitis, chronic shortening of the gastroc-soleus muscle complex is the reason that home remedies and anti-inflammatory medications fail. In these instances the muscle itself becomes shortened and creates a constant stress at the tendon?s attachment. Like a green branch that is slowly bent, eventually it begins to breakdown. Over a prolonged period the tendon becomes inflamed, and in the worst cases, appears swollen and thickened. In certain circumstances attempts to heal have failed and the body?s inability to heal the tissue results in degenerative changes known as achilles tendonosis. Anti-inflammatory medication, stretching and ice may only provide temporary relief, because they address the inflammation but not the root cause.




Symptoms

Pain anywhere along the tendon, but most often on or close to the heel. Swelling of the skin over the tendon, associated with warmth, redness and tenderness. Pain on rising up on the toes and pain with pushing off on the toes. If you are unable to stand on your toes you may have ruptured the tendon. This requires urgent medical attention. A painful heel for the first few minutes of walking after waking up in the morning. Stiffness of the ankle, which often improves with mild activity.




Diagnosis

A doctor or professional therapist will confirm a diagnosis, identify and correct possible causes, apply treatment and prescribe eccentric rehabilitation exercises. An MRI or Ultrasound scan can determine the extent of the injury and indicate a precise diagnosis. Gait analysis along with a physical assessment will identify any possible biomechanical factors such as over pronation which may have contributed to the achilles tendonitis and training methods will be considered. Biomechanical problems can be corrected with the use of orthotic inserts and selection of correct footwear.




Nonsurgical Treatment

With proper care for the area, the pain in the tendon should lessen over three weeks, but it should be noted that the healing of the area continues and doesn't even peak until at least six weeks following the initial injury. This is due to scar tissue formation, which initially acts like the glue to bond the tissue back together. Scar tissue will continue to form past six weeks in some cases and as long as a year in severe cases. After 6 months this condition is considered chronic and much more difficult to treat. The initial approach to treating Achilles tendonitis is to support and protect the tendons by bracing any areas of the tendon that are being pulled on during use. It is important to loosen up the tendon, lessen the pain, and minimize any inflammation.

Achilles Tendinitis




Surgical Treatment

Chronic Achilles tendon tears can be more complicated to repair. A tendon that has torn and retracted (pulled back) into the leg will scar in the shortened position over time. Restoring normal tendon length is usually not an issue when surgery is performed within a few weeks of the injury. However, when there has been a delay of months or longer, the treatment can be more complicated. Several procedures can be used to add length to a chronic Achilles tear. A turndown procedure uses tissue folded down from the top of the calf to add length to the Achilles tendon. Tendon transfers from other tendons of the ankle can also be performed to help restore function of the Achilles. The results of surgery in a chronic situation are seldom as good as an acute repair. However, in some patients, these procedures can help restore function of a chronically damaged Achilles.




Prevention

Stretching of the gastrocnemius (keep knee straight) and soleus (keep knee bent) muscles. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, relax slowly. Repeat stretches 2 - 3 times per day. Remember to stretch well before running strengthening of foot and calf muscles (eg, heel raises) correct shoes, specifically motion-control shoes and orthotics to correct overpronation. Gradual progression of training programme. Avoid excessive hill training. Incorporate rest into training programme.

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