What Causes Achilles Tendonitis And How Is It Treated?

The Achilles tendons, the largest tendons in your body, join the muscles of your lower legs to the heel bone of your feet. While tendons are certainly strong, they’re not particularly flexible, which means your Achilles tendons stretch only so far before they tear or get inflamed, which is called tendonitis.

Achilles tendonitis can range from slightly uncomfortable to severely painful, and it often develops in runners and other active people.

Let’s take a look at what causes tendonitis and how to treat it.

The most common causes of Achilles tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis is commonly an overuse injury. It’s usually the result of repetitive actions that lead to gradual wear and tear of your tendon, but an Achilles tendon injury can also happen suddenly.

Achilles tendonitis most often comes about with overuse. When pushed beyond their limit, the tiny fibers that make up the tendon can tear, causing pain, swelling, and inflammation. This is one tendon that has a particularly poor blood supply, making it more susceptible to overuse or wear-and-tear injuries.

Insertional Achilles tendonitis can be associated with a heel bone spur. The spur rubs against the tendon, resulting in smaller tears. Think of a rope constantly rubbing against a sharp, pointy rock.

Some of the most common causes of Achilles tendonitis include:

  • Overpronated, or very flat, feet
  • Sudden changes to your training surface, like from grass to tar
  • Doing too much training
  • Frequent hill running
  • Exercising without warming up
  • Not wearing the right supportive footwear
  • Tight calf muscles and hamstrings
  • A high foot arch
  • A traumatic injury to your Achilles tendon
  • Constantly wearing high heels or walking on your toes

As many as 10 in 100,000 people suffer from Achilles tendonitis. While recovery can be slow, it is a treatable condition.

How we treat Achilles tendonitis

Doctors can choose from a variety of treatments for Achilles tendonitis. These range from anti-inflammatory medications to platelet-rich plasma injections, and even surgery depending on the severity of your condition. Most of the time, Achilles tendonitis doesn’t require medical intervention. In cases of chronic Achilles tendonitis, it becomes necessary to seek medical attention to end your pain and suffering.

Common suggestions include:

  • Taking a break from physical activity or at least reducing how much you do
  • Gentle stretches
  • Trying a less strenuous activity

The RICE method proves particularly helpful when it comes to treating Achilles tendonitis, provided you follow the method right after you’re injured. Here’s how it works:

  • Rest: Keep the pressure off your tendon for a couple of days.
  • Ice: Hold a bag of ice against your skin for 20 minutes at a time. This can help ease swelling and inflammation.
  • Compression: Wrap athletic tape or a bandage around your tendon to compress the injury and keep swelling down.
  • Elevation: Keep your foot raised above chest level to keep the swelling down.

Another option is called extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT). During treatment, Dr. LaMour uses high-energy shock waves to stimulate healing. ESWT is often used when other conservative treatment options have failed, and if it’s successful, it could save you from needing surgery.

Noticing the symptoms

Achilles tendonitis feels like a burning pain as you begin an activity. The pain lessens during your activity and then gets worse again afterward. Your tendon might feel stiff when you wake up in the morning, too.

Common Achilles tendonitis symptoms include:

  • Pain that gets worse when you use your tendon
  • Loss of strength, stiffness, and pain in the affected area
  • More stiffness and pain during the night or first thing in the morning
  • A crunching sound when you use the tendon
  • The area may feel warm and tender and appear red and swollen

If you’re suffering from Achilles tendonitis that is not getting better with home remedies, it’s time to book an appointment with Dr. LaMour, who has two offices conveniently located in Austin and Pflugerville, Texas.

What You Should Know About Achilles Tendinitis

Perhaps you’ve heard of Achilles tendinitis and think it only happens to marathon runners or hard-core athletes. But this injury can happen to people of all ages and athletic levels. If it’s not properly treated, it can lead to an extremely painful tendon rupture.

How Does it Happen?

You use your Achilles tendon every day. It’s the largest tendon in your body and connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. It is strong and tough, but it takes a lot of abuse from daily walking, running, and jumping. If you overuse it (like during intense exercise), or if you suddenly increase your activity (common with “weekend warriors”), it can become inflamed and painful.

Symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis

It’s important to recognize the possible signs of Achilles tendinitis. If you continue to strain the Achilles tendon while it’s inflamed, it can lead to a rupture that requires surgery. It can also cause a bone spur (hard, bony growth) on the back of the heel.

Possible symptoms include:

  • Pain and stiffness in the calf or heel area in the morning
  • Pain in the back of the heel that feels worse when you exercise
  • A bone spur or hard bump on the back of the heel
  • Swelling in the back of the heel and/or calf that gets worse with exercise

How It’s Treated

Most cases of Achilles tendinitis can be effectively managed with non-surgical treatment by your podiatrist. Your options may include:

  • Rest. You’ll have to take a break from the activities that make the pain worse.
  • Ice. Icing is a great way to naturally relieve inflammation and pain.
  • Calf stretches. Your podiatrist can show you how to do specific exercises to gently stretch the tendon and help it heal.
  • Supportive shoes and/or orthotics. Some people benefit from a special shoe or insert that raises up the heel slightly, giving the tendon an opportunity to heal. Your podiatrist can recommend the right ones for you.

When Surgery is Needed

If your pain is not relieved after several months of non-surgical treatment, your podiatrist may discuss surgery with you. There are a variety of surgical techniques designed to repair the tendon and remove a bone spur if needed.

Dr. LaMour will discuss your surgical options and make sure you’re comfortable moving forward with the surgery and recovery. Most people who have a damaged tendon and daily pain find that the surgery provides much-needed relief.

If you have heel pain or other symptoms of Achilles tendinitis, contact our podiatry office to learn how you can address the problem and get back to the activities you love!