The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body, connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. It is used every day when you walk, run, climb stairs, jump, or stand on your toes. Because it is so heavily used, it is prone to Achilles tendinitis, a painful condition in which the Achilles tendon becomes irritated or inflamed.
While it can be caused by a variety of stressors, Achilles tendinitis most commonly develops from repetitive stress, or performing the same motion over and over. Luckily, Achilles tendinitis can be very treatable if caught in its early stages. If you’re experiencing pain in the back of the calf and heel area, call Yeargain Foot & Ankle. Dr. Yeargain will begin a comprehensive treatment plan to ensure that the condition does not progress and get you back to your sport as soon as possible.
- What is the Achilles Tendon and where is it located on the body?
- How is the Achilles Tendon stressed or worked?
- What causes Achilles tendinitis?
- What are its symptoms?
- Who is susceptible to getting Achilles Tendonitis?
- How can I prevent it?
- What will happen if it is left untreated?
- Are there different types of Achilles tendinitis?
- How is it treated?
- How long does its treatment take?
- Can I visit my primary care physician for it?
- Will I need surgery to treat it?
- Where can I buy a night splint for my Achilles tendinitis?
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT ACHILLES TENDINITIS
What is the Achilles Tendon and where is it located on the body?
The Achilles tendon is a thick band of tissue that runs down the back of the lower leg, connecting the calf muscle to the heel. It’s also known as the heel cord and is the biggest, strongest tendon in the body. This tendon facilitates walking by assisting to raise your heel off the ground and is used with each step you take. It’s also used to push off when you run, climb stairs, jump, and stand on your tiptoes.
How is the Achilles Tendon stressed or worked?
Since the Achilles tendon is the strongest in the body, it’s prone to inflammation due to overuse and imbalance with the adjacent tendons on the front of the leg, foot, and ankle. The inflammation is typically caused by a sudden increase of repetitive activity involving the Achilles tendon. This rapid increase in activity puts overwhelming stress on the tendon leading to micro-injury of the tendon fibers. In addition, ongoing stress on the tendon prevents the body from repairing the injured tissue, which results in persistent pain.
What causes Achilles tendinitis?
Achilles tendinitis is most commonly caused by a high-impact physical activity. It may also occur after a sudden change in normal activity—for example, going from flat surfaces to hills when running. Patients with jobs which require climbing a lot of staircases or ladders have a higher risk of developing Achilles tendinitis. It can also result from more of an acute injury during sports.
Achilles tendinitis is a repetitive stress injury, meaning that performing the same motion over and over again causes the Achilles tendon to wear out over time. Those who do perform repeated stress on the Achilles tendon, such as in a certain job or sport, are recommended to continually stretch and strengthen the tendon to prevent the injury from developing.
What are the symptoms of Achilles tendinitis?
When you experience Achilles tendinitis pain, what you’re feeling is a micro-tearing of the tissues. Symptoms of this include pain or stiffness on the Achilles tendon (the back of your leg between your calf and heel bone), pain which worsens with activity or the day after exercise, and consistent swelling which gets worse with activity throughout the day.
It’s important to see a specialist such as Dr. Yeargain immediately if you’re experiencing pain or unusual tightness in the back of your leg. Achilles tendinitis responds well to treatment if caught early, but if left untreated, may cause further damage which will take longer to heal, or may even require surgery.
Who is susceptible to getting Achilles Tendonitis?
- Athletes are considered highly susceptible to developing Achilles tendinitis. This is common in individuals whose work puts stress on their feet and ankles. “Weekend warriors” or those who are less conditioned and participate in sports only on weekends or infrequently tend to develop Achilles tendinitis or even Achilles tendon rupture.
- People with excessive pronation or flat feet tend to develop Achilles tendinitis due to the increase in demands placed on the tendon by simply walking. In addition, if these individuals wear unsupportive shoes, this further aggravates the Achilles tendon due to lack of support of overpronation.
- Having overly tight calf muscles can increase the probability of Achilles tendinitis along with being overweight. Both issues increase the stress on the Achilles tendon, especially when there is a sudden start of aggressive exercising or physical activities.
- A bone spur on the back of the heel bone where the Achilles tendon inserts can rub against the tendon and cause pain. Bone spurs typically form due to increased stress or tightness around the tendon’s insertion over some time.
How can I prevent Achilles tendinitis?
Since Achilles tendinitis is typically caused by tightness of the Achilles tendon or calf muscles that attach to it, the most important preventive measure is maintaining flexibility.
Dr. Yeargain will teach you a variety of techniques for stretching, depending on the severity and type of Achilles tendinitis. He will use some specific calf stretches in addition to the support of devices such as a night splint which holds the foot with the toes facing up, providing a constant, gentle stretch throughout the night. Sometimes, foam rollers will be used to increase the flexibility of the muscle that attaches to the tendon, and physical therapy may be prescribed.
What will happen if Achilles tendinitis is left untreated?
If left untreated, Achilles tendinitis can get worse and the Achilles tendon can even rupture, or become torn, which is extremely painful and debilitating. A rupture to the Achilles tendon will usually require surgery and a much longer recovery time than typical Achilles tendinitis.
Dr. Yeargain stresses that it’s important to have any pain in the back of your leg or ankle checked out as soon as possible to prevent further damage. As with any sports injury, it’s better to treat pain, tightness, or discomfort early to avoid serious complications.
Are there different types of Achilles tendinitis?
Yes, there are three main types of Achilles tendinitis:
1). Musculotendinous Junction: Achilles tendinitis which occurs where the calf muscle meets the top of the Achilles tendon.
2). Midsubstance: Achilles tendinitis which occurs right in the middle of the Achilles tendon. This type is more dangerous, as it can lead to rupture, and should be treated immediately to prevent complications.
3). Insertional: Achilles tendinitis which occurs down at the insertion of the Achilles tendon on the heel.
Depending on the type of Achilles tendinitis, Dr. Yeargain will craft a special treatment plan for your unique case.
How is Achilles tendinitis treated?
Achilles tendinitis treatment consists of two phases: anti-inflammatory and preventive.
Dr. Yeargain often sees patients come in with significant pain in the Achilles tendon, so he will first treat those symptoms—this is the anti-inflammatory phase. Depending on the type of tendinitis and severity of the injury, Dr. Yeargain will use techniques to decrease the inflammation and advise the patients on relative-rest until the inflammation subsides. Sometimes, oral medication will also be used.
After a couple of weeks, the patient will return to Dr. Yeargain’s office with decreased pain and inflammation, and together they will work on stretching and increasing flexibility to the tendon—this is the preventive phase. Dr. Yeargain will walk the patient through through how to get him or her back to their sport in the safest manner possible and without the risk of injury and minimizing the chance of the tendinitis recurring in the future.
The preventive phase is vital to achieve a full recovery and prevent Achilles tendinitis from recurring. Dr. Yeargain will teach each patient how to stretch, strengthen, and care for their Achilles tendon every day during their normal routine, which will ensure no further damage is done after the patient leaves his office and returns to their everyday activities.
How long does treatment for Achilles tendinitis take?
The average time to full resolution once treatment has begun is about six weeks. However, every patient is different, and depending on the type and severity of your Achilles tendinitis, this recovery time could be shorter or longer.
Can I visit my primary care physician for Achilles tendinitis?
If you’re experiencing pain or inflammation in the back of the leg, it’s important to see a specialist such as Dr. Yeagain. Some general care doctors will recommend injections in order to relieve patients of Achilles tendinitis symptoms, however, this form of treatment increases the chance of tendon rupture. Dr. Yeargain’s office is specially qualified to see patients suffering from injuries to the Achilles tendon, and they have the tools and expertise needed to get patients back on their feet and doing what they love as soon as possible—not simply covering up symptoms.
Will I need surgery to treat Achilles tendinitis?
A vast majority of the time, Dr. Yeargain is able to fully resolve Achilles tendinitis symptoms with with nonsurgical options. However, every once in a while someone doesn’t respond to nonsurgical treatment options, and surgery will become necessary to fully resolve the issue.
When surgery is necessary, Dr. Yeargain uses a endoscopic lengthening procedure—this technique uses a very small, minimally invasive incision. Occasionally, if there is more severe damage to the tendon or if bone spurring occurs, he will need to perform a more involved Achilles tendon reconstructive surgery. This is very rare, and these surgical options will always be considered last, after nonsurgical treatment options are ruled out for the patient.
Where can I buy a night splint for my Achilles tendinitis?
We strive to make the healing process as easy for our patients as possible, so we don’t have them running around to find their own supplies at sporting goods stores. Yeargain Foot & Ankle carries devices to assist with the recovery of Achilles tendinitis, such as night splints, heel lifts, foam rollers, and stretching straps. These devices are typically paid for by insurance.
At your appointment, Dr. Yeargain will advise you on the best devices to use and the proper technique to use them in order to get you back on your feet and doing what you love, pain-free, as soon as possible.