Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the human body. This tendon, which runs along the back of the leg and inserts onto the heel, can endure forces of up to 6 to 8 times the body weight during repetitive activities such as running. Because of the high load of stress it must endure, the Achilles tendon is prone to injury and inflammation. This condition is known as Achilles tendinitis and is a common cause of leg and heel pain in the active individual.
There are many factors which may contribute to the development of Achilles tendinitis, but it is commonly an overuse injury which results from a sudden change in activity level without proper training or conditioning. Other factors include tight leg muscles, improper shoes, and biomechanical faults within the foot and leg.
Signs of Achilles tendinitis often begin with swelling and a dull ache or stiffness in the back of the leg and heel that typically occurs at the end of activities. If left untreated, the pain can worsen and become present at the start of activities or even during normal walking. In severe cases, the tendon may even partially or completely rupture.
Early cases of Achilles tendinitis can be treated conservatively with rest, ice, and gentle stretching. Orthotics and heel lifts may help relieve tension on the tendon. Physical therapy can be initiated to provide additional reduction of inflammation and pain. In some cases, the Achilles tendon may require temporary immobilized within a walking boot.
Surgery may be necessary for individuals with pain that persists or worsens despite conservative treatments. However, it may be possible to avoid surgery through the use of advanced therapies such as extracorporeal shock wave therapy or platelet gel injections. Once the pain resolves, it is important to have a gradual return to activities to avoid re-aggravating the Achilles tendon.
Participation in a regular physical activity is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Proper shoes, stretching, and strengthening exercises can help prevent injuries. For any foot or ankle pain, a podiatrist should be seen for a full assessment and treatment.