The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. The Achilles tendon is located in the back of the lower leg and connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. The Achilles tendon can become inflamed leading to a degeneration of the tendon. The tendon can become less flexible and small tears can occur due to overuse. This overuse damage can occur gradually over time or immediately due to a one time trauma. The term for an inflamed Achilles tendon is Achilles tendinopathy. The Achilles tendon has a poor blood supply therefore; Achilles tendinopathy should not be left untreated because it is slow to heal. In some cases it may lead to a complete tear of the tendon requiring surgery to repair.
What are the causes of Achilles Tendinopathy?
Most of the factors leading to Achilles tendinopathy are when the physiological demands placed on the tendon exceed its capabilities.
1. Repetitive jumping activities such as volleyball or basketball.
2. A sudden explosive increase of activity
3. decreased recovery time between exercise sessions
4. Training on varied surfaces( Concrete sidewalks vs. grass)
5. Poor footwear
6. Unstable foot causing a flat arch
7. Limited ankle range of motion
8. Calf muscles weakness
Signs or Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy usually develop over time. Repetitive stress over time will cause partial tears in the tendon which can lead to a complete tear. The signs and symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy include:
1. Pain and stiffness just above the heel in the back of the lower leg during or after activity
2. Decreased strength and mobility in the lower leg.
3. Severe pain usually in the morning
Treatment of Achilles Tendinopathy
If you have any of these signs or symptoms you should discontinue any activity that is aggravating the pain. Your family doctor, chiropodist or physiotherapist may recommend some or all the following treatment regimes to heal and strengthen the Achilles tendon.
1. Modify activity( cycle, swim, elliptical machine)
2. Ice massage the tendon after activity
3. More appropriate footwear
4. Heel lifts to rest calf muscles
5. Off the self arch supports or custom foot orthotics
6. Night splint to stretch calf muscles( Strassburg sock™)