Able to withstand forces of 1,000 pounds or more is the Achilles tendon, the largest tendon in the human body. Often as the result of sports-related injuries, the Achilles tendon is also the most frequently ruptured tendon. Professional and recreational athletes alike may suffer from Achilles tendonitis, a common injury caused by overuse and inflammation of the tendon.
Events that can cause Achilles tendonitis may include:
- Hill running or stair climbing.
- Overuse, stemming from the natural lack of flexibility in the calf muscles.
- Rapidly increasing mileage or speed when walking, jogging, or running.
- Starting up too quickly after a layoff in exercise or sports activity, without adequately stretching and warming up the foot.
- Trauma caused by sudden and/or hard contraction of the calf muscles when putting out extra effort, such as in a sprint.
- Improper footwear and/or a tendency toward overpronation. Pronation occurs as weight is transferred from the heel to the forefoot when walking or running and the foot naturally rolls inwards. A certain amount of this is natural but in many people the foot rolls in too much or over pronates.
Achilles tendonitis often begins with mild pain after exercise or running that is steadily damaged.
Other symptoms include:
- Recurring localized pain, sometimes severe, along the tendon during or a few hours after running.
- Morning tenderness about an inch and a half above the point where the Achilles tendon is attached to the heel bone.
- Sluggishness in your leg.
- Mild or severe swelling.
- Stiffness that generally diminishes as the tendon warms up with use.
Treatment normally includes:
- A bandage specifically designed to restrain tendon motion.
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication for a period of time.Note: Please consult your physician before taking any medication.
- Corrective shoe inserts known as orthotics designed to help support the muscle and relieve stress on the tendon. Both nonprescriptionorthoses (such as a heel pads or over-the-counter shoe inserts) and prescribed custom orthotics may be recommended depending on the length and severity of the problem.
- Rest and switching to exercises that do not stress the tendon (such as swimming).
- Stretching and exercises to strengthen the weak muscle group in front of the leg, calf, and the upward foot flexors, as well as massage and ultrasound.
In severe cases, surgery is performed to remove the fibrous tissue and reconstruct any tears.