Achilles Tendon: Problems at the Heel
You have a cord at the back of your ankle that is one of the strongest tendons in the body, but it is still vulnerable to injury. It gets its name from the great warrior in Greek mythology, Achilles, whose ankle was his one weak spot. The Achilles tendon is crucial to your movement, as it allows you to point your foot down and push off for your steps. When it hurts, your mobility can be limited.
Types of Tendon Problems
Tendinopathy is the overall term to describe problems with the heel cord, and it involves two distinct conditions. One is tendinitis, or inflammation of the tendon. This is usually the result of an acute injury that causes the tendon to swell and become inflamed, which can put pressure on surrounding tissue and cause pain.
Tendinosis refers to actual deterioration of the tendon over a longer period of time. Stress on the tissue causes it to develop tiny fissures in the surface. If you keep using it and don’t allow it time to heal, the micro-tears accumulate and weaken the overall connector. This could lead to a third problem—a rupture. If the tendon tears completely, you may even hear a snap when it happens, and it can hurt so badly that you may not be able to walk normally.
A fourth problem is Achilles bursitis. There is a small, gel-filled sac that acts as a cushion between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone where it is attached. Repetitive friction against the bursa can irritate it, causing swelling and inflammation which can be very painful.
Risks for Tendon Issues
Men from 30 to 50 years of age are the most commonly affected by tendon injuries, especially those who occasionally participate in sports without really training for them. Repetitive motion in legs and feet that aren’t used to this much action puts a lot of stress on the tendon. A long weekend run or playing basketball with the guys once a month can make you vulnerable because you don’t maintain conditioning between times of performance.
Constant activity can also be a factor. Your tissue needs time off to rest and heal from the tiny tears; if you don’t take that time, the injury will only get worse. Tight calf muscles can also increase the tension on the Achilles tendon, making it more prone to injury. Because the Achilles follows around the heel and connects to the plantar fascia, the problems can extend under the heel, too. Certain antibiotics in the fluoroquinolone family can contribute to tendon injuries as well.
How to Heal Your Achilles
When the tendon is damaged, you may experience pain during movement, tenderness when the heel cord is pressed, swelling, and tingling. If you notice discomfort at the back of your ankle, come in and let our experts examine you. We can tell much by testing your range and strength of motion, as well as feeling the tendon. We may also use imaging tests to clarify what is wrong.
You will likely begin your recovery with gentle stretching of the calf muscles and tendon, with both straight-knee and bent-knee stretches, followed by icing the area. You may be able to continue moderate activity if the injury is not too severe. We try to stay away from anti-inflammatory medications, but our compounding pharmacy can formulate a topical medication to help with the pain. We also steer clear of cortisone or steroid injections because of possible harm to the tissues.
We have also had good results with our advanced K laser treatment for Achilles tendon problems. This use of red and near-infrared light beams penetrates the injured tissue and promotes cell metabolism and circulation. It has very few side effects and decreases your healing time. Call Aadvanced Foot Care Associates and set up an appointment to see whether this therapy might help your chronic tendon issues. We have three locations in New York: Rego Park (718) 896-4433, Plainview (516) 822-9595, and Flushing (718) 969-2266. You can also request an appointment on our webpage and keep in touch on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.