By most counts your body has around 4,000 tendons. The thickest and strongest (although not the longest) of these is the Achilles tendon, and with good reason—it needs to be strong enough to support your entire weight (plus additional forces) as you stand, walk, run, or jump.
Yet even the mighty Achilles is susceptible to breakdown and damage. Maybe not in the same fashion as its mighty warrior namesake—we hope nobody hits you there with a poisoned arrow!—but repeated stresses can lead to aching, swelling, and stiffness known as Achilles tendinitis.
Symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis
This painful condition usually first makes itself known as a dull ache located somewhere above the heel or at the back of the leg, depending on where the damage occurs. You’ll likely first notice it right after a run or some form of athletic activity.
Over time, the symptoms can expand, becoming more severe and involving warm skin, tenderness, stiffness, tight calf muscles, and reduce range of motion when flexing your feet. Stiffness is usually worst in the early morning and improves with mild activity, while pain is usually most severe after extended exercise and may recede with rest.
What Causes It, and Who Is Most at Risk?
Assuming you’re not fighting the Trojan War on behalf of Sparta, you’re most likely to develop Achilles tendinitis as a result of overuse, especially repetitive stresses from running or intense sports. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play, of course—it just means you need to be smart about it. The people most at risk are those who don’t take enough rest days between activities, who rapidly increase their intensity or duration of training without giving their bodies a chance to adapt, or who only participate in intense running or sports on the weekends.
Other factors may be involved, as well. Middle-aged and older people (particularly men) are at higher risk due to natural weakening of the tendon. If you’re obese, have tight calves or flat feet, or wear poor shoes, you may also be more likely to experience problems. Finally, certain medical conditions or medications can weaken tendons.
Fixing a Worn-Out Tendon—Home Care
The good news is that Achilles tendinitis usually responds to self-care measures. However, it’s important to take care of it early, since chronic tendinitis can make you more susceptible to a full Achilles tendon rupture.
When the pain strikes, remember the PRICE method! This first means giving your tendon protection by using crutches, a cast, or a brace. Second, be sure to rest by avoiding impact exercise for at least a few days. Use an ice pack for swelling and pain, and elastic wraps to compress the area and limit movement. Finally, elevate your foot as often as possible, especially while you sleep.
To avoid recurrence, make sure you wear good shoes, work toward new activities slowly, get plenty of rest between activities, stretch every day, and try mixing up your running, basketball, tennis, or other strenuous sport with low-impact exercises like cycling or swimming.
Fixing a Worn-Out Tendon—Professional Care
If you’re having trouble managing the pain on your own, stop in and let us help—our evaluation may reveal additional strategies to help you fix your tendon. These may include physical therapy, special exercises and stretches, stronger anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, or inserts or custom orthotics to correct an underlying deformity that may be contributing to your condition.
In rare circumstances, surgical repair may be considered. However, this is a last resort and is usually only recommended if all other methods have failed or there are other significant related problems.
Don’t suffer from Achilles tendinitis any longer than you have to! This condition can usually be managed well using simple, conservative strategies. To schedule an appointment with our office in Cedar Park or Round Rock, TX and get back to full health as quickly as possible, give Dr. Keith McSpadden a call today at 512-593-2949.