Typically an overuse injury, Achilles tendinitis affects the connective tissue between the calf and the heel. When you walk, run or otherwise use your leg to push your body upward, the Achilles tendon is engaged. Using the tendon frequently and with high intensity often results in tendinitis — a swollen Achilles tendon that makes it difficult and sometimes painful to continue high-impact activities.
Although a specific incident of overstretching can cause an Achilles tendon disorder, these injuries typically result from a gradually progressive overload of the Achilles tendon or its attachment to bone. The cause of this chronic overload is usually a combination of factors that can put excess stress on the tendon: being overweight, having a tight calf muscle, standing or walking for a long period of time, wearing excessively stiff or flat footwear, or engaging in significant sports activity.
Morning pain is a hallmark symptom because the achilles tendon must tolerate full range of movement including stretch immediately on rising in the morning. Symptoms are typically localized to the tendon and immediate surrounding area. Swelling and pain at the attachment are less common. The tendon can appear to have subtle changes in outline, becoming thicker in the A-P and M-L planes. With people who have a tendinopathy of the achilles tendon that has a sensitive zone, combined with intratendinous swelling, that moves along with the tendon and of which sensitivity increases or decreases when the tendon is put under pressure, there will be a high predictive value that in this situation there is a case of tendinosis.
A doctor examines the patient, checking for pain and swelling along the posterior of the leg. The doctor interviews the patient regarding the onset, history, and description of pain and weakness. The muscles, tissues, bones, and blood vessels may be evaluated with imaging studies, such as X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI.
Treatment will focus on relieving the pain and preventing further injury. Your podiatrist may create shoe inserts or a soft cast to effectively immobilize the affected area for a period of time. (Often, a couple of weeks are needed for the tendon to heal.) Medication can help too. Your podiatrist may recommend or prescribe oral medication.
Surgery usually isn’t needed to treat Achilles tendinopathy. But in rare cases, someone might consider surgery when rubbing between the tendon and the tissue covering the tendon (tendon sheath) causes the sheath to become thick and fibrous. Surgery can be done to remove the fibrous tissue and repair any small tendon tears. This may also help prevent an Achilles tendon rupture.
Maintaining strength and flexibility in the muscles of the calf will help reduce the risk of tendinitis. Overusing a weak or tight Achilles tendon makes you more likely to develop tendinitis.