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Achilles Tendinitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendonAchilles tendonitis is commonly seen in athletes who sustain an increase in training load, and is most often due to overuse. Tendons respond poorly to overuse, therefore healing is slow. This can leave a tendon pathologically defective, which decreases tendon strength and leaves it less able to tolerate load, thus vulnerable to further injury or tendinosis. Extrinsic factors contributing to this condition include training errors and inappropriate footwear. Intrinsic factors include inflexibility, weakness and malalignment. In other situations, there will be clinical inflammation, but objective pathologic evidence for cellular inflammation is lacking, and in these conditions the term tendinosis is more appropriate. Tendinosis is a degeneration of the tendon?s collagen in response to chronic overuse; when overuse is continued without giving the tendon time to heal and rest, such as with repetitive strain injury, tendinosis results. Even tiny movements, such as clicking a mouse, can cause tendinosis, when done repeatedly.




Causes

Tight or tired calf muscles, which transfer too much of the force associated with running onto the Achilles tendon. Not stretching the calves properly or a rapid increase in intensity and frequency of sport training can make calf muscles fatigued. Activities which place a lot of stress on the achilles tendon, such as hill running and sprint training, can also cause Achilles Tendinitis. Runners who overpronate (roll too far inward on their feet during impact) are most susceptible to Achilles Tendinitis. Runners with flat feet are susceptible to Achilles Tendinitis because flat feet cause a 'wringing out' effect on the achilles tendon during running. High arched feet usually absorb less shock from the impact of running so that shock is transferred to the Achilles tendon. Use of inappropriate footwear when playing sport or running e.g., sandals, can also put an extra load on the Achilles tendon. Shoes are now available that have been designed for individual sports and provide cushioning to absorb the shock of impact and support for the foot during forceful movements. Training on hard surfaces e.g., concrete, also increases the risk of Achilles Tendinitis. Landing heavily or continuously on a hard surface can send a shock through the body which is partly absorbed by the Achilles tendon. A soft surface like grass turf helps to lessen the shock of the impact by absorbing some of the force of the feet landing heavily on the ground after a jump or during a running motion.




Symptoms

There will be a gradual onset of achilles tendon pain over a period of weeks, or even months. The pain will come on during exercise and is constant throughout the training session. Pain will be felt in the achilles tendon when walking especially up hill or up stairs. This is because the achilles is having to stretch further than normal. There is likely to be stiffness in the Achilles tendon especially in the morning or after a long period of rest. This is thought to be due to adhesions between the tendon sheath and the tendon itself. Nodules or lumps may be found in the achilles tendon, particularly 2-4cm above the heel and the skin will appear red. Pain and tenderness will be felt when pressing in on the achilles tendon which is likely to appear thickened or swollen. A creaking sensation may be felt when press the fingers into the sides of the tendon and moving the ankle.This is known as crepitus.




Diagnosis

To diagnose the condition correctly, your doctor will ask you a few questions about the pain and swelling in your heel. You may be asked to stand on the balls of your feet while your doctor observes your range of motion and flexibility. The doctor may also touch the area directly. This allows him to pinpoint where the pain and swelling is most severe.




Nonsurgical Treatment

Treatment normally includes, A bandage, designed specifically to restrict motion of the tendon. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Orthoses (devices to help to support the muscle and relieve stress on the tendon, such as a heel pad or shoe insert. Rest, and switching to an exercise, such as swimming, that does not stress the tendon. Stretching, massage, ultrasound and appropriate exercises to strengthen the weak muscle group in front of the leg and the upper foot flexors. In extreme cases, surgery is performed, to remove fibrous tissue and repair any tears.

Achilles Tendinitis




Surgical Treatment

The type of surgery you will have depends on the type of injury you are faced with. The longer you have waited to have surgery will also be a factor that determines what type of surgery is needed. With acute (recent) tearing the separation in your Achilles tendon is likely to be very minimal. If you have an acute tear you may qualify for less invasive surgery (such as a mini-open procedure). Surgeons will always choose a shorter, less invasive procedure if it is possible to do so. Most surgeons know that a less complicated procedure will have less trauma to the tendon and a much quicker rate of recovery after the surgery.




Prevention

If you're just getting started with your training, be sure to stretch after running, and start slowly, increasing your mileage by no more than 10% per week. Strengthen your calf muscles with exercises such as toe raises. Work low-impact cross-training activities, such as cycling and swimming, into your training.
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