Your Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the entire body and, thanks to the mythical hero it’s named for, the tendon we are all most familiar with. It attaches the two muscles that make up your calf muscle to your heel bone. It is a vital component in aiding extension of the foot, allowing us to walk, run, jump, and go up on our toes. As such it undergoes a lot of strain throughout our daily lives, so it’s little wonder it can end up injured.
Acute injuries to the Achilles tendon, like a rupture, can cause severe pain and make walking extremely difficult without support. However, Achilles tendinitis is a chronic condition which is a result of repeated strain on the tendon. The tendon is damaged over time resulting in pain and swelling in the area.
Achilles tendinitis is fairly common, and though it occurs more often in people who engage in running or sports that involve a lot of running or jumping, it is common in non-athletes as well.
What Causes Achilles Tendinitis?There are many factors that increase your chances of developing Achilles tendinitis, including:
- Bodyweight - The heavier you are the more likely you are to develop the condition.
- Tight/weak calves - If your calf muscles are tight or weak then the tendon is placed under extra strain, trying to account for the lack of strength and flexibility in the muscles.
- Age - Achilles tendinitis is much more common in people over the age of 30, which isn’t surprising as it is a ‘wear and tear’ type of injury.
- Excessive running - The intense strain through the foot when running long distances can aggravate the condition.
- Poor footwear - If your shoes have worn out soles, or lack solid ankle support, then the impact from running will be transferred straight into your heel and tendon.
Symptoms of Achilles TendinitisThere are three main symptoms that accompany Achilles tendinitis:
- Morning stiffness - When getting up in the morning you may notice that the back of your ankle and foot feels stiff. Usually this passes after a few minutes of moving around.
- Pain in the tendon - If you squeeze the tendon you will likely experience pain, and the area around the back of the foot will feel tender.
- Pain during or after exercise - Some people find that their tendon is painful at the start of exercise but that it lessens and even disappears during the activity. However once they stop the pain then comes back. In others the pain can be so intense it’s not possible to continue with the exercise.
Treatment for Achilles TendinitisThe typical treatment regime for Achilles tendinitis advised by the NHS involves rest, especially in acute instances of the condition. You can continue to exercise if the activity doesn’t put too much impact through the foot (swimming is a good option) but in general running and other intensive exercise should be avoided for a time while symptoms are managed.
Icing your heel and the tendon will also help with managing pain and inflammation. Our cooling bandages can be applied to your ankle for hours at a time, giving you rapid relief from pain while reducing swelling, and providing support to the ankle.
The NHS also has a series of recommended exercises to help you strengthen your tendon and the surrounding muscles, as well as increase flexibility. You can read the exercises here. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified medical professional before beginning treatment.
If symptoms persist you will need to speak to your GP as chronic Achilles tendinitis may require additional intervention such as physiotherapy or orthotic inserts for your shoes.
Some injuries can be self-treated whilst others require prompt medical attention. You should seek advice from a health professional if: the injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness; you can't tolerate weight on the area; the pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling or joint abnormality or instability.