The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscles to the heel and is active during almost all activities including walking, jumping, and swimming. This dense tendon can withstand large forces, but can become inflamed and painful during periods of overuse. Pain results from inflammation (tendonitis) or a degenerating tendon (tendinosis). Achilles tendon pathologies include rupture and tendonitis. Many experts now believe, however, that tendonitis is a misleading term that should no longer be used, because signs of true inflammation are almost never present on histologic examination. Instead, the following histopathologically determined nomenclature has evolved. Paratenonitis: Characterized by paratenon inflammation and thickening, as well as fibrin adhesions. Tendinosis: Characterized by intrasubstance disarray and degeneration of the tendon.
Although a specific incident of overstretching can cause an Achilles tendon disorder, these injuries typically result from a gradually progressive overload of the Achilles tendon or its attachment to bone. The cause of this chronic overload is usually a combination of factors that can put excess stress on the tendon: being overweight, having a tight calf muscle, standing or walking for a long period of time, wearing excessively stiff or flat footwear, or engaging in significant sports activity.
Achilles tendonitis may be felt as a burning pain at the beginning of activity, which gets less during activity and then worsens following activity. The tendon may feel stiff first thing in the morning or at the beginning of exercise. Achilles tendonitis usually causes pain, stiffness, and loss of strength in the affected area. The pain may get worse when you use your Achilles tendon. You may have more pain and stiffness during the night or when you get up in the morning. The area may be tender, red, warm, or swollen if there is inflammation. You may notice a crunchy sound or feeling when you use the tendon.
Laboratory studies usually are not necessary in evaluating and diagnosing an Achilles tendon rupture or injury, although evaluation may help to rule out some of the other possibilities in the differential diagnosis. Imaging studies. Plain radiography: Radiographs are more useful for ruling out other injuries than for ruling in Achilles tendon ruptures. Ultrasonography: Ultrasonography of the leg and thigh can help to evaluate the possibility of deep venous thrombosis and also can be used to rule out a Baker cyst; in experienced hands, ultrasonography can identify a ruptured Achilles tendon or the signs of tendinosis. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI can facilitate definitive diagnosis of a disrupted tendon and can be used to distinguish between paratenonitis, tendinosis, and bursitis.
Self-care strategies include the following steps, often known by the acronym R.I.C.E, Rest. You may need to avoid exercise for several days or switch to an activity that doesn’t strain the Achilles tendon, such as swimming. In severe cases, you may need to wear a walking boot and use crutches. Ice. To decrease pain or swelling, apply an ice pack to the tendon for about 15 minutes after exercising or when you experience pain. Compression. Wraps or compressive elastic bandages can help reduce swelling and reduce movement of the tendon. Elevation. Raise the affected foot above the level of your heart to reduce swelling. Sleep with your affected foot elevated at night.
Surgery for an Achilles tendon rupture can be done with a single large incision, which is called open surgery. Or it can be done with several small incisions. This is called percutaneous surgery. The differences in age and activity levels of people who get surgery can make it hard to know if Achilles tendon surgery is effective. The success of your surgery can depend on, your surgeon’s experience. The type of surgery you have. How damaged the tendon is. How soon after rupture the surgery is done. How soon you start your rehab program after surgery. How well you follow your rehab program. Talk to your surgeon about his or her surgical experience. Ask about his or her success rate with the technique that would best treat your condition.
The following measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis. Adequately stretch and warm up prior to exercise. Warm down and stretch after exercise. Choose footwear carefully and use footwear appropriate to the sport being undertaken. Use orthotic devices in footwear to correctly support the foot. Exercise within fitness levels and follow a sensible exercise programme. Develop strong, flexible calf muscles.