Achilles tendinitis is a really uncomfortable condition that can affect anyone at any age. There are specific risk factors, though. If you do experience this ailment, you will know about it quickly because the pain can be excruciating, making it difficult to walk.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the problem including what it is, how it’s caused, the symptoms, how to heal it, and more. Then you will be better prepared to cure and prevent Achilles tendinitis in the future.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What is Achilles Tendinitis?
- 2 What Causes Achilles Tendinitis?
- 3 How To Cure Achilles Tendinitis Fast
What is Achilles Tendinitis?
It is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon. This tendon attaches your heel bone (calcaneus) to your calf muscles on each leg. The tendon plays a crucial role in the body when walking, running, jumping—being active, essentially.
But when it becomes damaged, often as a result of activity, it can become inflamed. This can be painful and can prevent you from being as active as you want to be. Tendinitis means inflammation in a tendon. Inflammation is a natural response that indicates that the body is recovering from an injury.
Despite being a natural occurrence, the response quite often causes pain. When it occurs, it can also lead to irritation and swelling. Achilles tendinitis comes in two different forms. The type you have depends on the part of the tendon that is inflamed.
The two types are as follows:
- Noninsertional Achilles Tendinitis
- Insertional Achilles Tendinitis
Let’s look at the difference between these two to help you understand which one you might be suffering from.
Noninsertional Achilles Tendinitis
Noninsertional Achilles Tendinitis refers to the condition when the middle part of the tendon is affected.
This occurs when the fibers in this part of the tendon suffer from small tears. This is called degeneration. When this happens, the fibers start to break down. They also tend to become thicker, and they may also swell up.
This type of tendinitis can occur in anybody. However, it is often much more common in younger people. It is also especially common in people who tend to live more active lifestyles.
Insertional Achilles Tendinitis
Insertional Achilles Tendinitis does not affect the middle of the tendon. Instead, it affects the lower part of the heel at the point where the tendon and the heel bone attach.
It can affect people who are either active or non-active. So it does not matter if you live an active lifestyle or not.
However, it is more typical in people who have been active for a long period of time. This can include runners and sprinters, or people who engage in other active sports. It often affects people who have led energetic lifestyles over many years.
What Are the Symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis?
There are many potential symptoms, and how you are affected depends on the severity of the inflammation.
Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Do you experience Achilles tendon pain when walking? This is a common symptom of Achilles tendinitis. You may feel the pain when you are walking gently, or you may only feel it when you walk for long periods of time.
- Bone spurs are also a sign. These are where the extra bone grows and usually accompany insertional Achilles tendinitis.
- Tendon fibers might become damaged and may calcify. This is where they harden and are common in both types of Achilles tendinitis.
- If you suddenly start feeling pain when walking, this could mean you have inflammation. The pain worsens when you are more active.
- You might have swelling in the tendon that does not go away. This might get worse during the day as you are active.
- You might also feel more severe pain the next day following your exercise.
- Do you have a sore Achilles tendon in the morning? You might feel pain first thing in the morning, as well as stiffness.
- You might also have a limited amount of motion.
- Is the skin on your heel warm? This might signify inflammation too.
In more severe situations, you might even feel a cracking sensation in the back of your calf or the heel. If this happens, it could indicate a ruptured Achilles tendon.
A partially torn Achilles tendon can be particularly painful and is also more serious. If this is the case, medical attention is recommended.
What Causes Achilles Tendinitis?
There is not usually a specific injury that leads to this condition. Instead, it is more often caused by repeated stress to the tendon. There are various reasons why the inflammation can form.
Here are some of the reasons:
- Exercising without warming up properly is a common cause. In this case, the tendon is not quite ready. When you put it under pressure, it can sometimes become injured easily.
- Suddenly increasing your activity is another common cause. If the amount that you exercise or the intensity of your exercise increases, you may find that you start to suffer from pain in your Achilles. This could be the case if you are training for a marathon. In this case, you might put it under a lot more stress, and it becomes inflamed.
- Calf muscles can also be a cause of pain when they are tight. If you have tight muscles and then you start exercising suddenly, this can put too much pressure on the Achilles tendon.
- Too much walking or running can cause your tendons to hurt. Running or exercising in excessive amounts can often be problematic.
- Some sports are also more likely to cause problems in the Achilles tendon. These include sports like tennis and squash that involve stopping quickly and changing direction.
- Exercising without the correct footwear is another cause. Poorly-fitting shoes and old shoes should be avoided. Wearing high heels for a long time can lead to Achilles tendinitis.
- The surface you run on can also increase the likelihood of developing problems. If you run on hard or uneven surfaces, for example, this can cause pain.
There are other factors unrelated to exercise and activity that can also pose a problem.
What Are the Risk Factors?
There are many risk factors. Some of these can be prevented, while some cannot.
- Rheumatoid arthritis and infection have both been shown to have a link to the condition.
- Age can also be a factor. The older you are, the weaker your tendons tend to become.
- Fallen arches and flat feet can also sometimes put more strain on the tendon.
- If you have a bone spur, this can be another common cause. This is extra bone growth at the point where the heel bone attaches to the Achilles tendon. It rubs against the tendon, and this leads to inflammation.
- In general, men are more likely to be affected than women.
- Obesity is a risk factor because you put more pressure on the tendon.
- You are also more likely to damage your tendon in colder weather.
- Hill running can put more strain on the Achilles.
- If you have psoriasis or high blood pressure, you might be more likely to develop the condition.
- Fluoroquinolones are a type of antibiotics that have been linked to it.
When to See a Doctor About Your Achilles Tendon Pain
If the pain disappears on its own after a day or two, you might not need medical attention. However, if the pain persists, it is worth making an appointment to see your doctor so you can start to recover. When you visit your doctor, he will want to carry out an examination. During this, you will be asked to describe your symptoms. The doctor will examine you and will feel your foot, ankle, and calf muscle.
They will be looking for the common signs of Achilles tendinitis. They will ask you where you feel the pain, pinpointing where the inflammation is. They will look for symptoms like swelling of the tendon, swelling at the back of your heel, restricted range of motion, bone spurs, thickening of the tendon, and more.
These will tell them whether you have tendinitis and which type of tendinitis you have. They may be able to do all of this just by looking and touching. However, they might want to carry out some further tests. These will usually be to confirm that tendinitis is the cause rather than something else. For example, they might want to give you an x-ray. This might be used to find out whether the tendon has calcified.
Or you might need to undergo an MRI scan. Magnetic resonance imaging is not needed for the diagnosis, but it might be required if the doctor thinks surgery is required. It also shows the severity of the damage.
How Long Does a Strained Achilles Tendon Take To Heal?
This will depend on many factors, including the severity of the damage, how much pain you are in, whether calcification has occurred, and whether you have a bone spur among other things.
In general, you should prepare for a few months before your pain goes completely. It usually takes between three and six months to heal, but it can take longer if you have experienced pain for a long time. That’s why it’s important to get it treated as soon as you can if you do not require surgery.
One of the first things to consider will be pain relief. This could be over-the-counter pain relief drugs or something stronger. Your doctor will decide what is right in your situation. Anti-inflammatory drugs are sometimes used to reduce the pain and swelling. These will not help with the thickening of the tendon, but they can be helpful for managing pain and inflammation.
Next, you will probably be advised to get plenty of rest. If you are a keen runner or walker, you will probably have to stop your activities. These will only make the pain worse. However, depending on the severity of your Achilles tendinitis, you might only have to decrease your activity levels rather than stop them completely.
Another option is to switch activities or mix them up. Rather than running or playing tennis exclusively, which are high-impact activities, you could mix these up with swimming or cycling. These have less impact and could, therefore, help to heal your tendinitis.
Ice treatment might also be recommended. This involves placing an ice pack on any painful areas, often a few times during the day, for 10-20 minutes at a time.
How To Cure Achilles Tendinitis Fast
One option to help cure your tendinitis is to elevate your foot regularly when you are resting. This can help to reduce swelling. Lie on your back and rest your foot on a pillow, and you may find this helps.
Compression can also be used. You can use a compression bandage to wrap around your tendon. This compresses the injury and prevents too much swelling. Don’t do this too tightly and make sure you get proper supervision.
Talk to your doctor about wearing a brace as well or a walking boot. This can be effective in preventing the movement of your heel.
Other types of medical treatment to cure tendinitis can include cortisone injections. This is a type of steroid that is very powerful, and it is injected into the tendon. It is not usually recommended.
You might also want to change your shoes to a more supportive pair, or you might want to wear orthotics. These are often used for insertional Achilles tendinitis and can help to reduce irritation.
Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) is another possible option. This is where shockwaves are used to stimulate healing. This is not often used, and it might not be effective.
Achilles Tendinitis Exercises
One of the best ways to both cure and prevent Achilles tendinitis is to carry out specific exercises. These can help to strengthen the calf muscles and take stress off the Achilles tendon.
The basic calf stretch is one of the simplest. This is how to perform it:
- Stand straight opposite a wall and lean against it with your hands.
- Bend one knee and keep the other leg straight. Keep your heel of the straight leg on the floor.
- Put pressure on your calf muscle and feel it stretch.
- Hold for a few seconds, and repeat ten times or more.
Another exercise is the heel drop. Here is what to do:
- Stand on the ground and lift your heels together, then lower them again.
- Do this 20 times in a slow and controlled manner.
Alternatively, stand on the edge of a stair. Place your front half of the foot on the stair, and get your balance by holding onto the railing. Lift your heels and lower them, and do this about 10 or 20 times.
You might also want to undergo physical therapy, especially if your pain is not going away. Your physical therapist can recommend other exercises for your specific situation.
Chronic Achilles Tendinitis Treatment—Is Surgery Needed?
If you have suffered from pain for a long period of time, such as over six months, during which time you were receiving regular treatment, surgery may be an option. The important thing is to try other treatments first and to only opt for surgery as a last resort.
One surgical option may be a gastrocnemius recession. This is where you lengthen the calf muscles, so they do not put so much stress on the Achilles tendon.
There are two muscles in the calf, and one of the muscles is lengthened. One of the risks is nerve damage, but complication rates are low.
Another possible surgical procedure is the removal of the bone spur. This will only apply if you have a bone spur that needs removing.
Surgery for tendon rupture might also be an option. A surgeon would need to sew the sides of the tendon together in this case.
How long it takes to recover from surgery depends. It could take up to a year, but it depends how severe the pain is. You might also need physical therapy to help.
How to Prevent Achilles Tendinitis
As with all such health problems, it’s always best to prevent them from occurring in the first place. If you have recovered from your Achilles tendinitis and you don’t want it to happen again, there are many things you can do to help prevent it coming back.
- One option is to stretch your calf muscles regularly at the start of each day or even twice a day. Stiff calf muscles are a risk factor. Keeping them stretched will help you to avoid problems with your tendons.
- Change your type of exercise as well. If you are exercising to keep fit, you should consider changing your routine. Move from running or tennis to swimming or cycling. Or mix them up, so you are not continually putting your Achilles under strain.
- When you do a workout, stretch before and after. Stretch your tendon gently by standing straight with your heel on the ground and bend forwards to touch the floor.
- Start to increase your activity level over time very gradually. It’s easy to be in a rush and go faster, but take your time over a few weeks and months and build up to it.
- Avoid activities like hill running, especially if you have suffered from Achilles tendinitis in the past.
After you have made a recovery, focus on prevention. Achilles tendinitis can affect anyone at any time, but you can reduce the risk of being affected by taking the precautionary steps outlined in this guide.