Of the approximately 4,000 or so tendons in your body—give or take—the two thickest and strongest happen to be your Achilles tendons. Also known as the “heel cords,” these powerful tendons connect your calf muscles to your heel bones, and play a critical role in walking, running, jumping, and basically all forms of activity.
But don’t mistake toughness for invulnerability! On the contrary, the Achilles tendons are highly susceptible to injury, due to the enormous amount of weight and force they have to absorb and transfer on a daily basis.
If you suspect any injury to your Achilles tendon—even if it’s only causing a dull ache—you should take it seriously. While many cases can be treated successfully at home, ignoring your symptoms and continuing with your activities can lead to your injury becoming chronic or even more serious.
The good news is that, at Heartland Foot & Ankle Associates, we have many advanced and effective treatments to help get you through even the most severe episodes of Achilles tendinitis.
What Is Achilles Tendinitis? What Are the Symptoms?
Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury to the Achilles tendon, usually focused along the back of the leg just above where the tendon connects to the heel. Repetitive strain on the tendon can lead to inflammation of the tendon tissue, or even degeneration and breakdown of the tendon fibers.
Symptoms vary depending on the location and severity of the tendinitis, but may include some or all the following:
- Pain and stiffness located around the back of the heel, especially after (but not necessary during) exercise.
- Tenderness in the tendon, especially in the morning.
- Noticeable swelling, or even a small “lump” on the tendon.
- Tight calf muscles
If you feel sudden, severe pain in the tendon—with or without an accompanying “popping” sound at the moment of injury—you may have suffered a complete rupture of the tendon, which is a serious injury that needs immediate treatment. Improper treatment of tendinitis can also lead to a rupture as well.
What Causes Achilles Tendinitis? Am I at Risk?
Achilles tendinitis, as we said before, is an overuse injury. Almost anyone can develop it, from youth athletes to senior citizens. All you really need is for your tendons to have to deal with too much force and pressure, beyond what they can bear, over a period of time.
However, there are certainly some activities, demographics, and other factors that would increase your risk. A few examples:
- Athletes in general, and runners in particular, are more at risk due to the enormous physical strain placed on the Achilles tendons. This can be complicated by poor decisions in training, such as not taking enough rest days or increasing the intensity of your workouts too rapidly.
- Wearing worn out shoes, or shoes that don’t provide much cushioning or support in any circumstance, increases the strain on your tendons.
- If you have a biomechanical abnormality, such as flat feet or tight calf muscles, your tendons may have to deal with greater strain.
- Middle-aged adults are often the “sweet spot” demographically for tendinitis. Tendons naturally weaken and become less flexible with age. Combine that with heavy exercise or a “weekend warrior” mentality, and it’s not surprising that injuries occur.
- Certain medical conditions or medications can weaken the tendons and make them more susceptible to injury. Common examples include high blood pressure, psoriasis, and taking certain medications and antibiotics (including Cipro and Levaquin).
Can I Treat It at Home? When Should I See a Podiatrist?
Mild to moderate cases of Achilles tendinitis can often, although not always, be treated at home. If you start developing a dull ache or mild pain in the back of your heel, immediately discontinue rigorous physical activity and begin RICE therapy:
- Rest by avoiding exercises that put a high impact on the feet and Achilles tendon. (You may choose alternative, low-impact exercises like swimming or biking instead.)
- Ice the painful tendon a few times per day to control swelling and pain. It’s best to do this no more than 15 minutes at a time as a response to an increase in symptoms. Do not touch ice to your bare skin.
- Compress the tendon if you have any wraps or compressive elastic bandages and you know how to use them properly—not too loose or too tight. (Omit this step if you aren’t comfortable with it.)
- Elevate your foot, ideally above the level of your heart, when you are sleeping—and as often as you can while sitting, too.
This all being said, please remember that, if your Achilles tendinitis is not treated promptly and properly, it absolutely can worsen, become chronic, or even lead to a rupture. Discontinue home treatment and call us immediately if any of the following apply:
- Your pain is severe or worsens.
- You are having difficulty walking or performing normal tasks.
- Despite following RICE therapy, pain continues to persist beyond a week or two.
In cases such as these, it’s very likely you will need additional help from our office in order to resolve the injury and prevent it from worsening.
Also, if you’d just rather come in and have a professional take a look and provide treatment recommendations, please don’t hesitate to call us! It’s never too soon to seek our help regarding a potential injury to your Achilles tendon.
Effective Treatment Options, Personalized for You
At Heartland Foot & Ankle Associates, we have a ton of experience treating all kinds of foot and ankle injuries, including Achilles tendinitis.
We’ll always take the time to provide a thorough evaluation and talk with you at length about your situation, in order to determine which treatment procedures would be most relevant and effective. Whether that includes rest, stretching, bracing, physical therapy, laser therapy, arch supports, orthotics, or other techniques, we will always take whatever time is necessary to truly understand you and your condition, and respond accordingly.
If the tendon has been ruptured, or your tendinitis does not respond sufficiently to more conservative remedies, we may recommend surgically repairing the tendon. Although we try to avoid it when we can, surgical procedures do have a very high success rate, especially when patients follow through on their aftercare at home. We will of course carefully review everything you need to know with you before any decision is made.
Please do not give a dull ache in your Achilles tendon the opportunity to become a chronic, painful problem! Give us a call at (309) 661-9975 or request an appointment online to take your first steps toward full recovery.