As the largest tendon in your body, the Achilles tendon is critical to walking, jumping, running, and every other form of exercise or physical activity that involves your legs or feet.
This important tendon was made to withstand a great deal of impact and stress; however, like any other part of your body, it can become damaged through overuse or injury.
Understanding the causes, symptoms, and recommended treatments for Achilles Tendonitis can help you get back on the path healing quickly, and before more damage to the Achilles Tendon is sustained.
Causes and Diagnosis of Achilles Tendonitis
Achilles Tendonitis can be chronic or acute, and is most commonly caused by overuse or damage to the Achilles tendon. However, Achilles Tendonitis can also occur as a result of arthritis among middle aged and elderly people.
Running without supportive footwear on hard surfaces is often a primary culprit, but tendonitis can also be brought on suddenly by an injury, or by intense physical activity without proper stretching. To diagnose Achilles Tendonitis, your doctor will do a physical exam of your foot, and may also do an MRI to determine whether any tearing or other damage has taken place to the tendons in your foot.
Achilles Tendonitis Vs. Plantar Fasciitis
Although Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis are two very different conditions, they can be difficult to tell apart at first, since both involve acute foot pain.
One of the biggest differences is the location of the pain: Unlike Plantar Fasciitis, the pain from Achilles Tendonitis is focused at the back of the heel rather than the underside of the foot and along the fascia. Plantar fasciitis usually develops more slowly, while Achilles Tendonitis can either come on suddenly due to an injury or develop more chronically, from improper footwear or overuse.
Symptoms of Achilles Tendonitis
Pain at the back of the heel while walking or running is the most common symptom of Achilles Tendonitis. The condition is characterized by pain and inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which is located on the back of the foot, connecting the muscles of the calf to the heel of the foot. Overuse or strain to the tendon can lead to inflammation, or tendonitis, causing severe pain.
Other symptoms of Achilles Tendonitis include bruising, redness, or swelling on the skin around the inflamed area. Pain is most noticeable in the morning after first putting weight on your feet after waking up. Pain is also noticeable when running, jumping, or during increased physical activity. Over time, you may notice a soft, painful lump on the tendon, as well as stiffness in your foot or ankle.
Treatments for Achilles Tendonitis
Treatment for Achilles Tendonitis should focus on dealing with symptoms and addressing the cause that brought about the condition in the first place. Conservative treatment measures are usually the most effective in alleviating the pain and healing this condition.
Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or Ibuprofen can reduce the swelling and redness caused by inflammation of the Achilles tendon.
Icing three times per day for twenty minutes at the site of the inflammation is another good way to reduce inflammation and promote healing for Achilles Tendonitis.
Limiting stressful, sudden, or intense physical activity, such as prolonged running and jumping is an important factor in healing Achilles Tendonitis, since the damaged tendon needs time to properly heal. When you do resume physical activity, do so gradually and pay close attention to your body.
Special stretches that strengthen and improve flexibility in your Achilles tendon and the other muscles and ligaments of the foot can drastically improve healing time. When you do resume some physical activity, it’s likewise imperative to stretch properly to warm up the tendon before applying excessive strain.
Using an orthotic shoe insert is another conservative way to greatly reduce the symptoms associated with Achilles Tendonitis. The orthotic insert helps to add corrective support to the heel of the foot and aids in restoring the proper mechanics of the heel to reduce and prevent irritation and strain on the tendon. In most cases this simple treatment provides the most effective results in alleviating Achilles Tendonitis.
Dorsal Night Splint
A dorsal night splint can improve your Achilles’ tendon’s flexibility and promote healing even while you sleep, by keeping your heel and ankle flexed at just the right angle. A Dorsal Night Splint can also reduce stiffness and morning pain that comes along with Achilles Tendonitis.
At Heel That Pain, we’re here to help you find answers to the questions you have and get you back on your feet–without pain. If you’re currently experiencing heel or arch pain, you may find the following free resources helpful as well:
This article was originally published on August 4th, 2015, and updated for quality on April 17, 2017.