The Achilles Tendon is a band of connective tissue that attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone and is used frequently in everyday activities such as walking, running and standing on your toes.
Achilles tendonitis occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed. This inflammation is caused by micro tears in the tendon that cause pain when the tendon is lengthened.
There are two main types of Achilles tendonitis:
Small tears in the middle fibres of the tendon start to break it down, leading to pain and swelling in the centre of your achilles tendon. This occurs between your heel bone and the point where the calf muscles start.
This damage occurs in the lower part of the heel where your tendon meets your heel bone.
While Achilles tendonitis is a common condition among sports people and those leading active lifestyles, its role in day to day movement means it can also impact almost anyone.
Heel pain is the main symptom of Achilles tendonitis, and may be accompanied by swelling. Achilles pain is generally more evident in the mornings when the body has been inactive for a period of time, this may also present as a feeling of stiffness or limited range of motion when flexing your foot.
Achilles tendonitis will also cause pain during activity, sometimes making walking difficult or impossible in severe cases. Pain can also be experienced during any activity that requires stretching of the calf or foot.
The back of your heel may feel tender or swollen and, in some cases, can feel warm to the touch.
Depending on the level of damage, Achilles tendonitis can be graded as mild, moderate or severe. In all cases, seeking treatment is strongly advised to avoid the risk of rupture of the tendon.
There are two main causes of Achilles tendonitis.
The first is chronic tightness in the back of the leg. This can be a result of overuse or repeated activity, especially when performed without a proper warm up or stretching. Achilles tendonitis is also commonly seen in people performing activities that involve sudden changes in direction, speed or intensity such as running, tennis, basketball or dance.
The second cause is a result of misalignment in the foot and ankle which can cause repetitive or intense strain and activation of the Achilles tendon. This ongoing stress leads to the micro tears which are the basis of pain and swelling.
There are a number of conservative treatment methods for Achilles tendonitis, depending on the severity and progression of the condition.
In the early stages, stretching can be helpful to reduce the strain on the tendon. Icing and taping techniques may also be helpful in the short term.
Orthotics or lifts in footwear may assist in taking the load off the tendon and a reduction on physical activity or change to a less strenuous form of exercise can allow the tendon time to recover.
In cases where Achilles tendonitis is causes by misalignment in the foot, Foot mobilisation therapy is an effective, long-term treatment option to correct the underlying structures of the foot and ankle, reducing or eliminating strain of the tendon.