Tendons are the fibrous connective tissue that connects muscle to bone. The Achilles tendon is the thickest in the human body and connects the heel (calcaneus) bone to the muscles in the calf. This tendon is used when walking, jumping, running, and standing. Repetitive, continuous, and intense physical activity such as running and jumping can cause inflammation of the Achilles tendon. This inflammation is known as Achilles tendinitis (or tendonitis).
Excessive exercise or walking are common causes of Achilles tendinitis. However conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis and infection are both risk factors to tendinitis.
Repetitive activities that strain your Achilles tendon can potentially cause tendinitis. These can include:
- playing sports such as tennis
- sudden increase in physical activity
- wearing old or poorly fitted shoes
- having bone spurs
- being older (the Achilles tendon weakens with age)
- being overweight
The main symptoms of Achilles tendinitis are pain, swelling, and stiffness in the back of your foot or calf. You may have a limited range of motion when you flex your foot. The pain can be variable and it can improve as you keep moving.
Your doctor will ask you a few questions about the pain, your activity, and conduct a physical examination of your foot and leg. They will evaluate the flexibility, alignment, and range of motion in your foot and ankle.
Your doctor may recommend imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI scans, and ultrasounds to help confirm tendinitis, but these are not always needed.
Achilles tendinitis generally responds very well to treatment and home remedies, as long as it is diagnosed and treated early. Your doctor may recommend:
- RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
- reducing physical activity
- gentle stretching and exercises
- ice packs to help reduce inflammation
- wearing a brace or support
- painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications
- steroid injections
You cannot always prevent tendinitis. However you can lower your risk of Achilles tendinitis, you can:
- do warm up exercises
- ease into exercise, gradually increasing physical activity
- stretch your calf muscles
- wear well-fitting shoes with arch support
- do not continue to exercise through pain
Additional advice and information can be found on the NHS website here.
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