Achilles tendinosis (also known as Achilles tendinopathy) is a soreness and stiffness that comes on gradually and continues to worsen until treated. It is a common injury among middle and long distance runners. The severity of Achilles tendinosis can be broken down into four stages, each of which can be measured in terms of how the Achilles tendon feels during exercise, the amount of stiffness and creaking, and Achilles tendon?s soreness to the touch (the Achilles tendon pinch test). The four stages, or grades, are, No pain during exercise, but there is some discomfort in the morning when first getting out of bed. The stiffness and creaking go away after a few minutes and are fine the rest of the day. Lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb in the morning or after exercise will probably indicate soreness. Pain during exercise or running, but performance is not affected. The stiffness and creaking continue to appear when first getting out of bed and continue to disappear shortly afterward. Lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb in the morning or after exercise will indicate soreness. Pain during exercise or running that is detrimental to performance. The stiffness and creaking continue to appear when first getting out of bed, but may continue for some time and reappear at other points during the day. Lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb in the morning or after exercise will indicate soreness. Hurts too much to exercise or run. The stiffness and creaking continue to appear when first getting out of bed, but may continue for most of the day. Lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb at almost any time of day will indicate soreness.
The two most common causes of Achilles tendonitis are Lack of flexibility and Overpronation. Other factors associated with Achilles tendonitis are recent changes in footwear, and changes in exercise training schedules. Often long distance runners will have symptoms of Achilles tendonitis after increasing their mileage or increasing the amount of hill training they are doing. As people age, tendons, like other tissues in the body, become less flexible, more rigid, and more susceptible to injury. Therefore, middle-age recreational athletes are most susceptible to Achilles tendonitis.
There will be a gradual onset of achilles tendon pain over a period of weeks, or even months. The pain will come on during exercise and is constant throughout the training session. Pain will be felt in the achilles tendon when walking especially up hill or up stairs. This is because the achilles is having to stretch further than normal. There is likely to be stiffness in the Achilles tendon especially in the morning or after a long period of rest. This is thought to be due to adhesions between the tendon sheath and the tendon itself. Nodules or lumps may be found in the achilles tendon, particularly 2-4cm above the heel and the skin will appear red. Pain and tenderness will be felt when pressing in on the achilles tendon which is likely to appear thickened or swollen. A creaking sensation may be felt when press the fingers into the sides of the tendon and moving the ankle.This is known as crepitus.
A podiatrist can usually make the diagnosis by clinical history and physical examination alone. Pain with touching or stretching the tendon is typical. There may also be a visible swelling to the tendon. The patient frequently has difficulty plantarflexing (pushing down the ball of the foot and toes, like one would press on a gas pedal), particularly against resistance. In most cases X-rays don’t show much, as they tend to show bone more than soft tissues. But X-rays may show associated degeneration of the heel bone that is common with Achilles Tendon problems. For example, heel spurs, calcification within the tendon, avulsion fractures, periostitis (a bruising of the outer covering of the bone) may all be seen on X-ray. In cases where we are uncertain as to the extent of the damage to the tendon, though, an MRI scan may be necessary, which images the soft tissues better than X-rays. When the tendon is simply inflamed and not severely damaged, the problem may or may not be visible on MRI. It depends upon the severity of the condition.
The recommended treatment for Achilles tendinitis consists of icing, gentle stretching, and modifying or limiting activity. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naprosyn, can reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy and the use of an orthosis (heel lift) can also be helpful. For chronic cases where tendinosis is evident and other methods of treatment have failed, surgery may be recommended to remove and repair the damaged tissue.
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.
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.