The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in your body, connecting your calf muscles to the back of your heel. Virtually all of the force generated when you ?toe off? the ground during running is transmitted by the Achilles, and this force can be as much as three times your body weight. And the faster you run, the more strain you put on the Achilles tendon. As such, it?s prone to injury in many runners, but particularly those who do a lot of fast training, uphill running, or use a forefoot-striking style. Achilles tendon injuries account for 5-12% of all running injuries, and occur disproportionately in men. This may be because of the faster absolute speeds men tend to train at, or may be due to other biomechanical factors.
There are a number of causes and risk factors associated with Achilles Tendinitis. One of the most common causes is simply a lack of conditioning. If the tendon, and muscles that connect to the tendon, have not been trained or conditioned, this can lead to a weakness that may result in an Achilles injury. Overtraining is also associated with Achilles Tendinitis. Doing too much, too soon places excessive strain on the Achilles tendon and doesn’t allow the tendon enough time to recovery properly. Over time small tears and general degeneration result in a weakening of the tendon, which leads to inflammation and pain. Other causes of Achilles injury include a lack of warming up and stretching. Wearing inadequate footwear, running or training on uneven ground, and simply standing on, or in something you’re not meant to. Biomechanical problems such as high arched feet or flat feet can also lead to Achilles injuries.
Symptoms include pain in the heel and along the tendon when walking or running. The area may feel painful and stiff in the morning. The tendon may be painful to touch or move. The area may be swollen and warm. You may have trouble standing up on one toe.
There is enlargement and warmth of the tendon 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Pain and sometimes a scratching feeling may be created by gently squeezing the tendon between the thumb and forefinger during ankle motion. There may be weakness in push-off strength with walking. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can define the extent of degeneration, the degree to which the tendon sheath is involved and the presence of other problems in this area, but the diagnosis is mostly clinical.
If you have ongoing pain around your Achilles tendon, or the pain is severe, book an appointment with your family physician and ask for a referral to a Canadian Certified Pedorthist. Your Pedorthist will conduct a full assessment of your feet and lower limbs and will evaluate how you run and walk. Based on this assessment, your Pedorthist may recommend a foot orthotic to ease the pressure on your Achilles tendon. As Achilles tendinitis can also be caused by wearing old or inappropriate athletic shoes for your sport, your Pedorthist will also look at your shoes and advise you on whether they have appropriate support and cushioning. New shoes that don?t fit properly or provide adequate support can be as damaging as worn out shoes.
Surgery is considered the last resort. It is only recommended if all other treatment options have failed after at least six months. In this situation, badly damaged portions of the tendon may be removed. If the tendon has ruptured, surgery is necessary to re-attach the tendon. Rehabilitation, including stretching and strength exercises, is started soon after the surgery. In most cases, normal activities can be resumed after about 10 weeks. Return to competitive sport for some people may be delayed for about three to six months.
While it may not be possible to prevent Achilles tendinitis, you can take measures to reduce your risk. Increase your activity level gradually. If you’re just beginning an exercise regimen, start slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the training. Take it easy. Avoid activities that place excessive stress on your tendons, such as hill running. If you participate in a strenuous activity, warm up first by exercising at a slower pace. If you notice pain during a particular exercise, stop and rest. Choose your shoes carefully. The shoes you wear while exercising should provide adequate cushioning for your heel and should have a firm arch support to help reduce the tension in the Achilles tendon. Replace your worn-out shoes. If your shoes are in good condition but don’t support your feet, try arch supports in both shoes. Stretch daily. Take the time to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon in the morning, before exercise and after exercise to maintain flexibility. This is especially important to avoid a recurrence of Achilles tendinitis. Strengthen your calf muscles. Strong calf muscles enable the calf and Achilles tendon to better handle the stresses they encounter with activity and exercise. Cross-train. Alternate high-impact activities, such as running and jumping, with low-impact activities, such as cycling and swimming.