Achilles tendinitis might be something you can treat at home under your doctor’s supervision, or could require medical treatments that may include surgery. Whatever the case, Achilles tendinitis can be a very painful condition requiring treatment from a doctor who specializes in pain management.
The dictionary defines “tendinitis” as the “inflammation of a tendon.” However, inflammation is rarely what causes the pain in a tendon. The pain comes from tiny tears called microtears, in both the tissue and the surrounding areas. These tears are the result of overuse.
Chronic Achilles tendinitis can lead to micro tears in the tissue, which weaken the tendon and puts it at risk of damage. In severe cases, the Achilles tendon can tear, either partially or completely.
A partial tear usually has mild symptoms or may have no symptoms at all.
A complete tear is called a “rupture” and is most often the result of a sudden and forceful motion that stresses the calf muscle. This usually occurs during intense athletic activity, but can happen during simple running or jumping. Should you experience a complete rupture, you will know it immediately as there is intense pain and a sudden loss of strength and movement in the lower leg.
This is why many people believe Achilles tendon problems happen suddenly. Instead, they are almost always the result of many tiny tears in the tendon over time. Middle-aged adults who are recreational athletes, ages 30 to 50, are most likely to experience this kind of injury, but it can also occur in older adults.
What Causes Achilles Tendinitis?
The most common cause of Achilles tendinitis is overuse or repeated movements. This can be the result of sports activities or work. If you do a lot of pushing off or stop-and-go motions (as in sports, like tennis or basketball), there’s a good chance you will have microtears in the tendon.
The Achilles tendon and calf muscles can be strained by beginning a new, strenuous exercise routine, like running uphill or stair climbing. It can also be caused by a change in the intensity, or increasing the duration, of the exercise.
Other than strenuous movement, anything that causes over-exertion, like jumping and climbing, can strain the tendon and calf muscles, causing inflammation.
What Are the Treatments for Achilles Tendinitis?
Most mild cases of Achilles tendinitis can be treated at home under a doctor’s supervision. Severe cases may require surgical repair of the damaged tendon. In all cases following recovery, self-care strategies are recommended to prevent further injuries.
In the case of a mild injury, after a doctor’s examination, the treatment is often over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs and rest. The application of ice for short intervals (no more than 15 minutes at a time) is helpful, along with rest. To help relieve swelling, your doctor may suggest sleeping with the affected foot propped up. Also, wearing a brace while sleeping may help by keeping the leg flexed to prevent stiffening of the tendon.
More severe injuries, such as a torn or ruptured tendon, may need to be repaired surgically, followed by a cast, splint, brace, walking boot or other method of keeping the lower leg from moving during the healing process. Some form of exercise follows this, either with physical therapy or in a rehab program, to help strengthen the lower leg and increase mobility.
With mild and severe injuries, massage therapy helps increase blood flow to the surrounding muscles and tissue, which (along with stretching exercises) also helps increase the range of motion. In some cases, ultrasound heat therapy can aid the healing process, which also improves blood flow to the affected area.
Full recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, even in mild cases. And, it is always important to follow your doctor’s recommendations to prevent re-injuring the Achilles tendon.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and specializes in treating the pain resulting from Achilles tendinitis. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle, while minimizing the need for opiates.
Achilles Tendinitis Resources
Achilles tendinitis (Mayo Clinic, Aug. 04, 2015)