According to a post on Oct 4, 2014, “There are like 14 of these in the National Football League right now,” quoted by Chiefs coach Andy Reid of Achilles injuries. This statement has helped raise a critical concern and awareness to the professional NFL players who try to figure out the etiology behind Achilles injuries.
What can happen to the Achilles tendon? It can get inflamed (tendonitis), rupture or tear (partial or full thickness). The Achilles tendon is one of the long tendons in your lower extremity which stretches from the calf muscles and inserts into your heel bone. Achilles tendon can be palpated and felt like a thick band at the back of your calf muscles and your heel bone (calcaneus). This tendon is particularly important in helping extend your foot and point your toes to the floor.
High-impact active athletes such as gymnastics, dancers, football, basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball and tennis players are more prone to Achilles injuries due to the overuse, tight calf muscles and not enough stretching before and after training.
What are the signs and symptoms of Achilles injuries? Pain, swelling, tenderness to touch, difficulty or inability to bear weight, stiffness are expected when suspecting an Achilles injury. Sometimes, patients also mention hearing a “snap” or “pop” prior to the injury.
Achilles tendon injuries can be diagnosed through a thorough history, clinical presentation and physical examination. However, in order to further categorize whether it is a partial or full thickness tear or rupture of Achilles tendon, besides plain film X-Ray, ultrasound and MRI are very helpful imaging modalities.
Achilles tendon injuries are usually treated conservatively unless it is a chronic, full thickness tear or excessive pain with or without weight-bearing. Conservatively, patients are often advice RICE (rest, ice, compression with ACE or coban to minimize the swelling, and elevation of the leg above the heart level to reduce the swelling as well). NSAID is also recommended for those who can tolerate Ibuprofen, or Aleve. If you are allergic to any of the NSAID, please let your medical professional know. At the end of the visit, patients will be dispensed a heel lift to help supporting the achilles tendon. After 2-3 weeks, patients can start doing some home stretching and strengthening exercises. If all conservative treatments are considered exhaustedly with no pain improvement or the patient is unable to return to normal physical activities, surgical treatment should be considered.
When should you avoid surgery? Please avoid having the surgery if you have any active infection or unhealthy skin at the Achilles area. Smoking, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, steroid usage, and compliance with post-op instructions are all important factors that your doctor should discuss with you prior to consent for surgery.
If you suspect of having Achilles injury, please seek immediate professional medical care to avoid chronic complications that will happen in the future. If you are located in the Monmouth/Ocean county area, make an appointment today at Affiliated and Foot and Ankle Center located in Howell NJ to have one of our foot and ankle specialists help care for your Achilles injury.