What is Achilles Tendinopathy?
Achilles tendinopathy is a condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness of the Achilles tendon. It is thought to be caused by repeated tiny injuries (known as microtrauma) to the Achilles tendon. After each injury, the tendon does not heal completely, as should normally happen. This means that over time, damage to the Achilles tendon builds up and Achilles tendinopathy can develop.
Achilles tendinitis is caused by repetitive or intense strain on the Achilles tendon, the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. This tendon is used when you walk, run, jump or push up on your toes.
The structure of the Achilles tendon weakens with age, which can make it more susceptible to injury — particularly in people who may participate in sports only on the weekends or who have suddenly increased the intensity of their running programs.
The main symptoms include pain and stiffness around the affected Achilles tendon. Pain and stiffness tend to develop gradually and are usually worse when you first wake up in the morning. (Severe pain that comes on suddenly and difficulty walking can be symptoms of Achilles tendon tear (rupture). See a doctor urgently if you develop these symptoms.)
Some people have pain during exercise but, in general, pain is worse after exercise. Runners may notice pain at the beginning of their run, which then tends to ease and become more bearable, followed by an increase in pain when they have stopped running. Pain due to Achilles tendinopathy may actually prevent you from being able to carry out your usual everyday activities such as walking to the shops, etc. You may notice that you have pain when you touch the area around your Achilles tendon. There may also be some swelling around this area.
Tendinitis usually responds well to self-care measures. But if your signs and symptoms are severe or persistent, your doctor might suggest other treatment options.
A physical therapist might suggest some of the following treatment options:
- Exercises. Therapists often prescribe specific stretching and strengthening exercises to promote healing and strengthening of the Achilles tendon and its supporting structures.
- Orthotic devices. A shoe insert or wedge that slightly elevates your heel can relieve strain on the tendon and provide a cushion that lessens the amount of force exerted on your Achilles tendon.
If several months of more-conservative treatments don’t work or if the tendon has torn, your doctor may suggest surgery to repair your Achilles tendon.
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