What Can We Do About Achilles Tendon Pain ?

Overview

Achilles TendinitisAchilles tendonitis is commonly seen in athletes who sustain an increase in training load, and is most often due to overuse. Tendons respond poorly to overuse, therefore healing is slow. This can leave a tendon pathologically defective, which decreases tendon strength and leaves it less able to tolerate load, thus vulnerable to further injury or tendinosis. Extrinsic factors contributing to this condition include training errors and inappropriate footwear. Intrinsic factors include inflexibility, weakness and malalignment. In other situations, there will be clinical inflammation, but objective pathologic evidence for cellular inflammation is lacking, and in these conditions the term tendinosis is more appropriate. Tendinosis is a degeneration of the tendon?s collagen in response to chronic overuse; when overuse is continued without giving the tendon time to heal and rest, such as with repetitive strain injury, tendinosis results. Even tiny movements, such as clicking a mouse, can cause tendinosis, when done repeatedly.

Causes

Sometimes Achilles Tendinitis is a result of sudden trauma, as you might encounter from playing sports, but you can also have Achilles tendon pain as a result of small, unnoticed, day-to-day irritations that inflame the tendon over time by a cumulative effect. In those with no history of trauma, Achilles Tendonitis is sometimes associated simply with long periods of standing. There are several factors that can cause the gradual development of Achilles Tendinitis. Improper shoe selection, particularly using high heels over many years, increases your odds of developing the condition. This is because high-heeled shoes cause your calf muscles to contract, leaving the tendon with a lot less slack in it. Inadequate stretching before engaging in athletic or other physically-demanding activities also predisposes you to develop the problem. This is especially true in "weekend athletes", individuals who tend to partake in excessive physical activities on an intermittent basis. Biomechanical abnormalities like excessive pronation (too much flattening of the arch) also tends to cause this condition. And it is much more common individuals with equinus. It is more common in the middle-aged, the out-of-shape, smokers, and in those who use steroids. Men get the condition more frequently than women. Those involved in jumping and high-impact sports are particularly vulnerable.

Symptoms

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.

Diagnosis

On examination, an inflamed or partially torn Achilles tendon is tender when squeezed between the fingers. Complete tears are differentiated by sudden, severe pain and inability to walk on the extremity. A palpable defect along the course of the tendon. A positive Thompson test (while the patient lies prone on the examination table, the examiner squeezes the calf muscle; this maneuver by the examiner does not cause the normally expected plantar flexion of the foot).

Nonsurgical Treatment

Make sure that the tendon is not torn through and through. If it is severed, you must see a doctor immediately so that the tendon can be repaired. Severe injuries can sever a tendon, without a skin laceration being present. Testing involves moving the toes and foot to see if the tendon moves. If the tendon does not appear to move, it may be severed (comparing the injured tendon and its movement to the same tendon on the uninjured foot may help). Very sharp pain, a sudden pop, or an obvious gap in the structure of the tendon are all signs of a rupture, and should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. If there is extreme swelling of the leg, and pain (out of proportion to the amount of trauma received), you may have sustained a vascular injury. A doctor must see this type of injury immediately. If you are not sure, see a doctor. If you have multiple injured areas see a doctor immediately, in order to prevent excessive swelling and pain. If the above exam is negative, then you may proceed with self-treatment. (However, if you are not sure of the extent of your injury, you should consult your doctor immediately). The sooner you begin to treat your injury by following "R.I.C.E.", the better you will feel. Rest is very important. Take off your shoe, get off your feet, and relax. Ice should be applied as soon as possible. Never apply ice directly on the injured area, as the cold may make the pain worse. Ice should be applied close to the injured site, between the heart and the injury, so that as the blood flows under the ice, it will be cooled. This cool blood flowing into the injured area will help to reduce the swelling and pain. Apply the ice, wrapped in a cloth or over an elastic bandage, to the foot for 15 minutes, every 1-2 hours, for up to 3 days after an injury. If the ice is uncomfortable, or causes increased pain, do not continue to use it, and see a doctor. If you have poor circulation do not use ice, as this may cause a serious problem. c. Compression is used to limit swelling, and to give support to the injured area. Compression should be applied to the entire foot, starting first at the toes and working back to the ankle. If it is applied just to the injured area, increased swelling will occur in front and behind the wrapping. Compression should be applied with a 3-inch elastic bandage, beginning around the base of all the toes, and then going around the foot and ankle. Continue over the calf muscle when possible. Compression reduces motion in the injured area and foot, and this decreases the pain, and allows for quicker healing. The bandage should not be so tight that it causes increased pain or throbbing in the toes or foot. It should be comfortable! Do not remove the elastic bandage for the first 12 hours, unless it becomes too tight, or the pain increases, or the toes become pale, blue, or cool. If any of these things happen, immediately remove all bandages, and leave them off for several hours. The normal color and temperature of the toes should return immediately. If not, see a doctor immediately! Continue until the swelling and pain subsides; it could take from several days to several weeks. d. Elevation of the leg will aid in reducing swelling and pain. Blood rushes to an injured area to bring increased blood cells, that aid in healing. Gravity will also force blood to the injured area. Too many cells and too much fluid will apply pressure to the injured nerves and tissues, and cause increased pain and delayed healing. Keep your foot elevated so that it is at least parallel to the ground, or higher if it is comfortable. Do this for at least 48 hours, or until the throbbing subsides, when you lower the leg.

Achilles Tendonitis

Surgical Treatment

Following the MRI or ultrasound scan of the Achilles tendon the extent of the degenerative change would have been defined. The two main types of operation for Achilles tendinosis are either a stripping of the outer sheath (paratenon) and longitudinal incisions into the tendon (known as a debridement) or a major excision of large portions of the tendon, the defects thus created then being reconstructed using either allograft (donor tendon, such as Wright medical graft jacket) or more commonly using a flexor hallucis longus tendon transfer. In cases of Achilles tendonosis with more minor degrees of degenerative change the areas can be stimulated to repair itself by incising the tendon, in the line of the fibres, which stimulates an ingrowth of blood vessels and results in the healing response. With severe Achilles tendonosis, occasionally a large area of painful tendon needs to be excised which then produces a defect which requires filling. This is best done by transferring the flexor hallucis longus muscle belly and tendon, which lies adjacent to the Achilles tendon. This results in a composite/double tendon after the operation, with little deficit from the transferred tendon.

Prevention

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of Achilles tendinitis, warm up every time before you exercise or play a sport. Switch up your exercises. Slowly increase the length and intensity of your workouts. Keep your muscles active and stay in shape all year-round. When you see symptoms of Achilles tendinitis, stop whatever activity you are doing and rest.

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