Weekend warriors beware–you may be at high risk for developing Achilles tendonitis! You may want to give up the notion that you’re a NBA player during your weekend game of basketball after learning about the long recovery time and increased probability of a painful, debilitating rupture when dealing with Achilles tendonitis.
So, what exactly is Achilles tendonitis and how is it treated? Better yet, how do you prevent Achilles tendonitis in the first place? Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon that connects the heel to the calf muscles. The inflammation comes from overuse, whether from running or some other activity that continually stresses the Achilles tendon. This inflammation can lead to pain and swelling. And if this condition is not treated properly, it can lead to small tears within the tendon which unfortunately may lead to rupture.
So, how do you know if you have Achilles tendonitis? Symptoms may include but are not limited to the following:
- Ache or pain at the back of the leg and above the heel after running or other sports activity
- Tenderness or stiffness, especially in the morning, that usually gets better with mild activity
- A crackling or creaking sound when you touch or move your Achilles tendon
- Mild swelling or “bump” on your tendon
The best way to prevent an Achilles tendon injury from getting worse is to address the injury immediately: it will get worse if not taken care of properly and thoroughly! If you suspect you may have Achilles tendonitis, it is wise to go get it checked out immediately by a foot specialist. Since the Achilles tendon does not have a good blood supply, it can take a lot of time to heal. So be patient and follow your doctor’s orders! Your doctor may treat the Achilles tendonitis with the following:
Treatment may include:
- Rest and apply cold therapy.
- Wear a heel pad to raise the heel and take some of the strain off the Achilles tendon. This should only be a temporary measure while the Achilles tendon is healing.
- Make sure you have the right athletic shoes for your feet and the sport.
- Application of wraps or compressive elastic bandages can help reduce swelling and reduce movement of the tendon. Compression accelerates healing by improving circulation.
- Your doctor may also prescribe a prescription-strength or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain killer such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen (Aleve, others) to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Biofreeze, a topical analgesic, may also be used to decrease pain.
- Wear a Cho-Pat Achilles Tendonitis Strap-This Mayo Clinic designed strap helps relieve pain by spreading muscular contraction forces away from the Achilles Tendon and by promoting an early heel rise, thereby reducing the stretch and stress on the Achilles tendon.
- Night splints are often used to maintain the ankle in a neutral position during sleep and provide a passive stretch to both the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia by pulling from above.
- Massage and/or ultrasound
There are steps you can take to prevent an Achilles tendon injury. Consider the following to help you avoid this troublesome condition:
- Stay in overall good shape
- Warm-up, stretch, and strengthen the Achilles tendons. Your doctor can show you these exercises.
- Take it easy. Back to you weekend warriors! Gradually increase the duration and intensity of exercise if you are just starting. Avoid activities that excessively stress the Achilles tendon. This is often how tendonitis occurs in the first place–too hard, too fast, too soon!
- Choose your shoes carefully. Your shoes should have firm arch support and cushion. Replace worn out athletic shoes.
- Strengthen your calf muscles. Strong calf muscles allow the calf and Achilles tendon to better deal with the stresses they encounter with activity/exercise.
- Cross-train. Alternate high-impact activities with low-impact activities, such as running and jumping for cycling and swimming.
Again, if you suspect you may have Achilles tendonitis, it is wise to get it checked out immediately by a foot specialist.