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Understanding 3 Painful Achilles Tendon Problems

Comfortable foot function and weight-bearing depend heavily on the health of a large tendon extending from each calf muscle to the heel bone. This piece of tissue, the Achilles tendon, allows you to alter the upward or downward angle of your foot and makes it possible for you to raise your foot off the ground.

When the Achilles tendon experiences inflammation or damage, you may find yourself unable to stand or walk without severe pain, if you can manage it at all. Have a look at three common Achilles tendon problems that should receive prompt diagnosis and treatment from a skilled podiatrist.

1. Achilles Tendinitis

Tendinitis involves pain, inflammation, and swelling in a tendon. This damage may occur suddenly if your foot encounters strong twisting forces or a hard impact (as in an auto accident or high-impact sports injury). However, it frequently develops more gradually due to long-term or repeated stress.

Common tasks such as running, walking, athletic training, or even household chores can encourage Achilles tendinitis development. If you fail to lengthen and loosen your Achilles tendons with warm-up exercises beforehand, you raise your risk for Achilles tendinitis. Abnormal arches and/or poor footwear support can also contribute.

Your podiatrist can prescribe several first-aid treatments to reduce the acute inflammation and discomfort of Achilles tendinitis. Your injured tendon may need a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs, ice, night splints or other immobilization, orthotics to correct for arch issues, and physical therapy to improve flexibility.

Changes in your workplace schedule, training regimen, or other everyday behaviors can give your Achilles tendons a much-need rest. Collagen repair plays another key role in Achilles tendinosis treatment. A combination of massage therapy and nutritional supplementation can help your body rebuild its collagen fibers.

2. Achilles Tendinosis

If you ignore the warning signs of Achilles tendinitis and allow the condition to go untreated, it can progress to a more chronic problem called Achilles tendinosis. At this stage, micro-tears in the tendon's collagen fibers accumulate faster than the body can repair them, creating a downward spiral of degeneration.

As the damage accumulates, the tendon grows thicker, tighter, and stiffer. It can also contribute to bone spur development. With Achilles tendinosis, pain and swelling becomes more constant.

The conservative treatment for Achilles tendinosis is similar to that of tendinitis. You may still benefit from anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, ice applications, orthotics, and a walking boot or another brace. The time it takes to recover from tendinosis is much longer and if conservative treatment is not effective, surgery may be considered. 

3. Achilles Tendon Rupture

An Achilles tendon rupture involves a partial or total tear of the tendon at any point along its length. Any force that stretches or twists the tendon beyond its normal capacity can produce this kind of tear. It often affects people who submit their Achilles tendons to extreme demands or conditions on a non-regular basis.

If you rupture an Achilles tendon, you may feel a snapping or popping sensation along with a sharp, stabbing pain at the moment of the injury, with the intense pain fading to a debilitating ache. The back of the leg usually swells up. You'll probably find it difficult or impossible to walk uphill or rise up on tiptoe.

Minor Achilles tendon tears may heal through conservative treatment techniques such as immobilization. Surgery or conservative treatment can be used to treat total ruptures. Your surgeon will discuss the options and together make a treatment plan that is right for you. Both kinds of care will also require a course of rehabilitative physical therapy.

If an Achilles tendon issue has left you limping, seek professional care at Ankle & Foot Clinic of Everett. Our podiatry team can examine the affected tendon and surrounding structures to determine the most effective course of treatment.  Please contact our office, 425-339-8888, ext 0, to request an appointment.

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