Achilles Tendon Problems

Dr. Ayush PandeyMBBS,PG Diploma

January 04, 2020

October 14, 2021

Achilles Tendon Problems
Achilles Tendon Problems

Named after the Greek half-god Achilles, who became infallible because his mother submerged him in a river with magical powers, but for the place she held him from - his heel, an Achilles tendon injury is not very uncommon. 

The Achilles tendon (also known as the calcaneal tendon) is located at the back of the leg and joins the calf muscle to the heel of the foot. It is the strongest as well as the largest tendon in the human body. It helps us stand on our toes during activities like walking, running or jumping. The almost webbing-like extension above the heel that you feel stretching back and forth as you stand on your toes is the Achilles tendon.

Achilles heel tendonitis is one of the most common injuries among those involved in running sports. Repetitive movement or strain can lead to inflammation and swelling of the tendon, causing discomfort while putting pressure on the affected leg while walking or running. While it can happen to anyone, those who play sports that involve a lot of stops between runs or changes in directions, like football, tennis, basketball or even dancing, are more prone to such injuries.

Causes of Achilles tendon injury

The injury is often experienced by people when they’re pushing the foot off the ground, rather than while in motion or stopping. 

  • Weekend warriors (people who exercise only occasionally) who are past their 30s may injure their Achilles tendon due to the sudden change of intensity in their workout or sports.
  • Because the Achilles tendon is usually rather tight, those with flat feet may also experience this problem more than people with arched feet. Women used to wearing high heels also tend to strain their Achilles tendon.
  • Training in cold weather or even running uphill can cause the Achilles tendon to flare up more as compared to training in warm weather. People with high blood pressure or having the condition psoriasis can also develop Achilles tendonitis.

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Symptoms of Achilles tendon injury

You may experience different symptoms depending on the degree of injury you have suffered in your Achilles tendon. In the case of Achilles tendonitis: 

  • You might feel swelling and inflammation on the back of your heel.
  • Experience tightness in the calf muscles.
  • Not able to have a full range of motion in the foot, unable to stretch or flex.
  • Unable to stand on your toes.

Alternatively, in the case of Achilles tendon rupture, you will feel severe pain in the back of your heels and feel as though you have been kicked in the calf.

Diagnosis of Achilles tendon injury

There are various ways to determine if one has suffered an Achilles tendon injury:

  • A doctor will perform a physical exam to check for pain, swelling or any knots on the back of the leg. The limited movement and pain associated with this injury deem a physical exam good enough to determine the cause.
  • An X-ray can only determine problems in the bones, but an MRI or a CT scan will be able to find out if you have injured or ruptured your Achilles tendon.
  • A Thomson test is conducted by a doctor by squeezing your calf muscles while you’re sitting on a chair or lying down. If the end of the foot doesn’t move (the calf muscle is joined to the heel bone by the Achilles tendon), there may be a rupture present.

Treatment for Achilles tendon injury

Achilles tendon injuries tend to heal on their own. Even so, ranging from mild discomfort to a full-blown tear in the tissue, an injured Achilles tendon can be nursed back to health to regain full mobility. 

  • Rest the injured leg and avoid putting your body weight on it. Always a better idea to rest your leg on an elevated surface while sitting or lying down.
  • Apply ice on the injured Achilles tendon twice or thrice a day.
  • Wear a brace or compression to keep the injured area protected.
  • Over-the-counter pain medication helps in managing the discomfort.
  • Physical therapy can alleviate the pain in your Achilles tendon.
  • Surgery may be required in the event of a rupture or tear in the Achilles tendon.
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Risk factors of Achilles tendon injury

Because of the nature of the tissue, recovering from an Achilles tendon injury could take a long time, sometimes months, depending on the severity of the injury.

Wearing worn-out shoes to play a sport or while training, not warming up before or not giving enough rest after feeling slight discomfort can all lead to aggravation of the Achilles tendon.

Prevention from Achilles tendon injury

While an injury like Achilles tendonitis can strike anytime and to anyone, you can always follow some key pointers to avoid it from happening altogether.

  • Wearing footwear with the right amount of support needed to cushion your heel upon impact to the ground.
  • Switch from running and jumping to low-impact exercises like cycling and walking.
  • Immediately stop exercising if you feel any discomfort or pain in your calf or heel during training or running.
  • Stretch before beginning a workout, running or playing any sport to mobilise the muscles and tissues before you put them to the test.
  • Strengthen your calf muscles with exercises specifically focussed on them.
  • Gradually raise the intensity of the sport you play or the workout you’re going to do.

Complications of Achilles tendon injury

One of the main complications from suffering a strain in your Achilles tendon is that you’re at risk of rupturing or tearing the tendon altogether. Bursitis is also a common problem among people with pain in their Achilles tendon as it can affect or weaken the joint in your heel.

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