The function of the Achilles tendon needs to be assessed for acute injuries. Surgery may be needed for ruptures. Immobilization may need to be performed. Rehabilitation is often needed to make sure there is enough motion in the ankle joint. Oftentimes there is scar tissue that forms on the tendon itself or where it attaches to the heel bone, and extracorporeal shockwave therapy may be needed to break this up. Strengthening and further pain relief modalities from a physical therapist may be needed as adjunctive treatment.
If pain and stiffness are experienced in the back of the heel, you may be suffering from an Achilles tendon injury. This is the thickest tendon in the body and its purpose is to connect the back of the heel to the calf muscle. Runners are often afflicted by Achilles tendon conditions because of the force of the impact that occurs when the foot meets the ground. People with compromised immune systems may be at risk for injuring an Achilles tendon, and having flat feet or weakened calf muscles may also be contributing factors. Achilles tendonitis generally begins with a dull ache in the back of the heel and if ignored, the pain in the tendon may become severe, possibly affecting the ability to run or walk. An Achilles tendon rupture is a much more immediate injury that is extremely painful. Achilles tendon injuries need immediate attention to avoid future complications. A consultation with Dr. John Hoy of Seattle Foot and Ankle Center is suggested for information about proper exercises and treatment that will aid in healing the Achilles tendon.
What Is the Achilles Tendon?
The Achilles tendon is a tendon that connects the lower leg muscles and calf to the heel of the foot. It is the strongest tendon in the human body and is essential for making movement possible. Because this tendon is such an integral part of the body, any injuries to it can create immense difficulties and should immediately be presented to a doctor.
What Are the symptoms of an Achilles Tendon Injury?
There are various types of injuries that can affect the Achilles tendon. The two most common injuries are Achilles tendinitis and ruptures of the tendon.
Achilles Tendinitis Symptoms
- Dull to severe pain
- Increased blood flow to the tendon
- Thickening of the tendon
- Extreme pain and swelling in the foot
- Total immobility
Treatment and Prevention
Achilles tendon injuries are diagnosed by a thorough physical evaluation, which can include an MRI. Treatment involves rest, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery. However, various preventative measures can be taken to avoid these injuries, such as:
- Thorough stretching of the tendon before and after exercise
- Strengthening exercises like calf raises, squats, leg curls, leg extensions, leg raises, lunges, and leg presses
The most common injuries that can trouble the Achilles tendon are tendon ruptures and Achilles tendinitis. Achilles tendinitis is the milder of the two injuries. It can be recognized by the following symptoms: inflammation, dull to severe pain, an increased flow of blood to the tendon, thickening of the tendon, and slower movement time. Tendinitis can be treated via several methods and is often diagnosed by an MRI.
An Achilles tendon rupture is trickier to heal, and is by far the most painful injury. It is caused by the tendon ripping or completely snapping. The results are immediate and absolutely devastating, and will render the patient immobile. If a rupture or tear occurs, operative and non-operative methods are available. Once the treatment begins, depending on the severity of the injury, recovery time for these types of issues can take up to a year.
Simple preventative measures can be taken as a means to avoid both injuries. Prior to any movement, taking a few minutes to stretch out the tendon is a great way to stimulate the tissue. Calf raises, squats, leg curls, leg extensions, leg raises, lunges, and leg presses are all suggested ways to help strengthen the lower legs and promote Achilles tendon health.
Many problems arise among athletes and people who overexert themselves while exercising. Problems can also happen among those who do not properly warm up before beginning an activity. Proper, comfortable shoes that fit correctly can also decrease tendon injuries. Some professionals also suggest that when exercising, you should make sure that the floor you are on is cushioned or has a mat. This will relieve pressure on the heels. A healthy diet will also increase tendon health.
It is very important to seek out a podiatrist if you believe you have an injury in the Achilles region. Further damage could result in severe complications that would make being mobile difficult, if not impossible.