Long ago, in Greek mythology, Achilles was a hero whose only vulnerability was the spot just above the back of his heel—that’s why we call the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone our Achilles tendon. Although it is the biggest and one of the strongest tendons in our bodies, it is indeed vulnerable, especially to overuse injuries like tendonitis. Fortunately, treating Achilles tendonitis can ease the pain and prevent further damage—but it has to be done as soon as possible.
Is it Greek to You?
If you are not familiar with Achilles tendonitis, you are one of the lucky ones! It is a pain no mortal should have to endure. This inflammation of the tendon is the result of continual stress placed upon it. The fact that we use our Achilles every time we walk, run, jump, pivot, and climb Mt. Olympus makes it easy to understand how this injury can occur. It’s also evident why athletes and others who are active are especially prone to the problem. Sudden intensity in your training and tight calf muscles can also contribute.
There are two types of Achilles tendonitis, depending on which part of the tendon is affected. The non-insertional type occurs when the middle part of the tendon begins to tear and degenerate, becoming swollen and thick. Insertional involves the lower portion that attaches to the heel bone. Damaged tendon fibers can calcify, and extra bone growths, called spurs, can add to the painful condition.
Signs from the Gods of Pain
It’s no myth that symptoms of Achilles tendonitis can be debilitating. Pain and stiffness, especially in the morning and after activity, is a key indicator of the condition. The discomfort tends to build gradually, and you will likely experience swelling, your legs may feel sluggish, and the area will often be tender to the touch.
Treatment for Titan-ed Tendons
It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with Shenandoah Podiatry. An X-ray or MRI can be taken to confirm the condition as well as evaluate the level of damage. Once the degree of injury is determined, a treatment plan can be put into place. Typically, treating Achilles tendonitis starts with rest. Take time off from your regular activities and choose low-impact options—like swimming—that do not place stress on the tendon. Ice and anti-inflammatory medication can help to reduce pain and swelling. We may recommend orthotic shoe inserts or heel pads that can redistribute pressure away from the area and add support. We can also provide a special bandage that restricts movement of the tendon while it heals. In addition, through the use of stretches, massage, and ultrasound, physical therapy can assist in strengthening the calf and other surrounding muscles to relieve tension on the Achilles. Cortisone injections are also an option.
Usually it takes at least 3 months for symptoms to subside completely. If pain persists beyond 6 months, it may be time for you to consider surgery. There are procedures that can lengthen the tendon, repair or remove damaged tissues, and transfer tendons so that the remaining Achilles has the added strength it needs to regain full function.
If your Achilles is hurting, do not ignore it in hopes that it will eventually go away. It will only worsen and possibly even rupture. As soon as you notice symptoms of Achilles tendonitis, you should start treating Achilles tendonitis! At the first signs, contact Dr. Jennifer Keller of Shenandoah Podiatry for an appointment. You can reach us at (540) 904-1458 for our Roanoke location. Let us be your hero!