Deciding to up your mileage and incorporate hills into your running route seemed like a good idea at the time, but now your Achilles is super sore. We’re not surprised. Achilles tendinitis is a common overuse injury often seen in runners who increase their training intensity and duration too quickly. It’s also seen in “weekend athletes” who play sports like basketball and tennis just once a week. That’s because the injury occurs when repetitive or severe stress irritates and inflames your Achilles tendon—the strong band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your calf muscles. Fortunately this condition can be easily treated. However, it must be addressed early to prevent ruptures that may require surgical repair.
Are You at Risk?
Although this is most often seen in athletes who do too much, the condition can also be the result of just plain getting older. Your Achilles tendon weakens as you age, making it more prone to injury. It can also stem from having tight calf muscles Flat arches can put excessive strain on the tendon as well, and so can being overweight.
Location, Location, Location
There are two variations of this condition, based on which part of the tendon is inflamed or damaged. Noninsertional Achilles tendinitis occurs in the middle portion of the tendon and mostly affects young and active individuals, whereas the insertional type involves the lower part of the heel where the tendon attaches to it. This is most often seen in older people who are less active. In this case, tears and damage to the tendon fibers may harden and form bone spurs, adding to the painful problem.
Knowing the Signs
Symptoms may start as a mild ache in the back of the leg and heel and increase to severe pain after activity. Tenderness and stiffness are common in the morning. You may also notice a thickening and swelling of the area. Seek treatment at the first signs of trouble to prevent the condition from getting worse.
Treating your Tender Tendon
The first step to feeling better is rest. Stopping the activity that is causing the pain will allow it to heal more quickly. Icing the area in 20-minute increments several times a day will reduce pain and swelling, as will elevating your foot. We can recommend an anti-inflammatory medication if further relief is needed. Compressing the area by wrapping it in a snug elastic bandage helps keep it immobile while the healing takes place. Physical therapy exercises can loosen tight calf muscles and strengthen the tendon. Finally, wearing comfortable shoes with added padding in the heel can provide pain relief. Slip in a heel lift for some separation between your heel and the back of the shoe to cut down on friction and pressure, or try orthotic devices that evenly distribute weight and provide additional cushioning.
If pain persists, surgical procedures to repair the tendon may have to be considered.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Full recovery takes some time—at least a few months. If you’re aching to get back to your activity as much as your Achilles has been aching, our advice is to take it slow! Once pain subsides, gradually return to your exercise routine and consider cross-training with lower impact activities like biking or swimming.
For more information about Achilles tendinitis, or any other foot condition with which you may be concerned, come see us at Podiatry Associates, P.C. in Parker, Cherry Creek, or Castle Pines, CO. You can make an appointment with Dr. Cynthia Oberholtzer-Classen and the team by calling (303) 805-5156 today.
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