Achilles tendonitis is when the tendon that connects the calf muscle to your heel becomes painful. This tendon is called the Achilles tendon; it is used for walking, running, and jumping. Every time you push off using the ball of your foot you activate the Achilles tendon. There are two large muscles in the calf. These muscles are important for walking. They create the power needed to push off with the foot or go up on the toes.
Heel pain is most often due to overuse of the foot. It can occur in anyone that walks. Lately, I have seen a high population of Achilles pain in the adolescents due to growth spurts and tight calf muscles.
Achilles tendonitis may be more likely to occur if:
- You suddenly increase the amount or intensity of an activity
- Your calf muscles are very tight
- You run on hard surfaces such as concrete
- You run too often and not enough stretching of the muscles
- You jump a lot (such as when playing basketball)
- You do not have shoes with proper support
- Your foot suddenly turns in or out
Tendonitis from arthritis is more common in middle-aged and elderly people. A bone spur or growth may form in the back of the heel bone. This may irritate the Achilles tendon and cause pain and swelling.
Symptoms include pain in the heel and along the tendon when walking or running. The area may feel painful and stiff in the morning. The tendon may be painful to touch or move. The area may be swollen and warm. You may have trouble standing up on one toe.
The doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor will look for tenderness along the tendon and pain in the area of the tendon when you stand on your toes. X-rays can help diagnose calcium deposits or bone growth due to the irritation of the tendon pulling on the heel bone, called the calcaneus. An MRI may be done if your doctor is thinking about surgery or is worried about the tear in the Achilles tendon.
Most symptoms for Achilles tendonitis do not involve surgery. Changes in activity may help manage the symptoms. Decreasing or stopping any activity that causes pain in the tendon may help decrease the inflammation in the Achilles tendon, along with icing for 15 minutes a day. Switching your activity to biking and swimming will also put less stress on the Achilles tendon.
Your physical therapist can show you stretching exercises for the Achilles tendon to help relieve tightness. A heel lift may be placed in the shoe under the heel to help decrease the pulling of Achilles. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help with pain or swelling.
Lifestyle changes usually help improve symptoms. However, symptoms may return if you do not limit activities that cause pain, or if you do not maintain the strength and flexibility of the tendon by stretching daily.
Achilles tendonitis may make you more likely to have an Achilles rupture. This condition usually causes a sharp pain, like someone hit you in the back of the heel with a stick. Surgical repair is necessary, but difficult because the tendon is not normal.
Overusing a weak or tight Achilles tendon makes you more likely to develop tendonitis. It is important to keep up with stretching not only the Achilles but the hamstring and calf as they are all connected. Maintaining strength and flexibility will help prevent any pain or discomfort. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, then make an appointment with one of our podiatrists at Affiliated Foot & Ankle Center located in Howell, NJ.