Do you have tenderness, swelling, or redness on the back of your ankle? If so, you may have Achilles tendinitis.
Named after a mythological Greek warrior whose only mortal vulnerability lay in his heel, the Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. As the strongest connective tissue in the body, it boosts us forward when we walk, run, or jump.
But when it’s overloaded through overuse, the Achilles tendon may become inflamed, leading to Achilles tendinitis. This condition causes swelling and a painful, burning sensation behind the heel and it can travel about two inches above the heel. Without treatment, scar tissue may build up over time and cause palpable bumps along the tendon.
Achilles tendinitis can interfere with your exercise routine and daily activities. The good news? It’s highly treatable.
Causes and Symptoms:
Here are several common causes of irritation that can lead to Achilles tendinitis:
- Injury caused by repetitive overuse, like long-distance running, or trauma to the Achilles tendon, such as a tear.
- Tight calf muscles due to inadequate stretching. This tightness can irritate the Achilles tendon and cause inflammation.
- Other painful foot and lower leg conditions, like flat feet. Such conditions can become irritated by lack of proper footwear support and cause irritation in other parts of the foot and leg, like the Achilles tendon.
Self- Assessment Quiz
Do I feel any or all of these symptoms?
- Swelling, warmth, and redness in the back of my lower leg.
- Pain in the back of my heel or about two inches above my heel.
- Noticeable pain after I stretch my calves.
Is my pain accompanied by any of these activities?
- I have pain wearing tennis shoes. Sandals help relieve my pain.
- I recently ramped up my exercise routine.
- I do the same load-bearing exercise (like running or aerobics) several times a week.
- I usually don’t take the time to stretch my calf muscles.
- I typically wear flat or unsupportive shoes.
If you answered yes to any of the above conditions, you may have Achilles tendinitis.
Are there any serious concerns with Achilles tendonitis?
Although painful, Achilles tendinitis is usually treatable at home. Rarely, the tendon may thicken, and hardened nodules, or calcifications, may form where the tendon meets the heel bone. If this happens, the heel bone may become deformed and require invasive surgery to correct.
Be proactive about pursuing treatments for your Achilles tendinitis to avoid this unfortunate scenario. Read on for tips on how to treat Achilles tendonitis as soon as you feel symptoms.
Treatment and Prevention
What’s your best bet in treating Achilles tendinitis? Rest and calf stretches! Temporarily suspending activities that cause you the most pain can begin to relieve the Achilles tendon irritation. As the irritation subsides, massage and ice your leg for 15 to 20 minutes three times per day to further treat pain and discomfort.
Changing your footwear (it’s time for better shoes!) and using lower body health products may also offer both short- and long-term relief:
- Use heel lifts in your shoes to reduce inflammation and relieve tension on your Achilles tendon.
- If you overpronate, find an orthotic insole to help correct your gait, stabilize your foot, and better absorb impact.
- Choose athletic shoes with an approximately one-inch heel to further reduce tension and inflammation in the tendon.
- Wear a night splint to help automatically stretch your Achilles tendon over the course of the night.
- Calf stretches are important to help relieve the tension and pain associated with the Achilles tendon.
Once you are able to resume your normal activities, incorporate the following into your routine:
- Stretch your calf muscles before physical activities and on a regular basis.
- Strengthen your calf muscles with calf raises.
If these do-it-yourself treatments have not provided sufficient relief from the pain of Achilles tendinitis, it’s time to consult your foot and ankle specialist. Your doctor may prescribe any or all of the following to reduce inflammation and invite healing:
- Oral anti-inflammatory medication for short-term use
- Targeted physical therapy for 4 to 6 weeks
- A cast or walking boot (in particularly stubborn cases)
- Extra-corporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT), a non-invasive medical treatment
While non-surgical treatments work for most people suffering from Achilles tendinitis, severe cases may demand surgery. The level of invasiveness depends on the severity of your condition.
Remember – rest, stretch, and wear the right shoes – and you’ll be on your way to happier Achilles tendons!