What is Achilles tendinitis?
Achilles tendinitis is the Latin term for an inflammation of the Achilles tendon. Typical symptoms of this condition include irritation in the heel tendon, its surrounding area, and pain emanating from the heel tendon's attachment to the underside of the heel bone.
The three large leg muscles on the leg combine to form the Achilles tendon, which attaches to the heel bone. The function of these muscles is to facilitate movements such as bending in the knee and stretching in the foot. They are therefore used extensively in everyday activities like walking, running or jumping.
The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the human body. Like all other tendons, the Achilles tendon hardens as the body grows older and this brings with it an increased risk of injury.
Despite the strength of the Achilles tendon, many people suffer injuries related to this particular group of muscles. In most cases, this is usually caused by increased load on the tendon e.g. by increasing one’s walking or running distance or number of jumps.
Running, walking or jumping on hard surfaces, as well as hard shoes and abnormal footing (for example, a predisposition to flatfoot or hollow foot) also increases the risk of inflaming the Achilles tendon.
When the Achilles tendon becomes overloaded, it will feel sore and often swell due to the inflammation. It is important to be respectful of these symptoms. If the pain is ignored and the muscle stressor or overloading activity continues, then the tendon is more likely to rupture. A ruptured Achilles tendon will often require surgery.
Diagnosis and treatment
You should avoid jumping, running or similar activities that burden your Achilles tendon. However, it is important to remain physically active - besides furthering the treatment of your Achilles tendon, I twill help you to prevent and reduce pain in the rest of your leg muscles and joints.
Most people are usually able to cycle, swim and walk short distances even when they are injured. You should wear soft shock-absorbing shoes, preferably with a small heel lift, to relieve the Achilles tendon during everyday activities whilst you are in recovery.
Movement and stability exercises
If you suffer from an inflammation in your Achilles tendon, then it is important to continue using your ankle to maintain flexibility, and to work on improving its stability. It is common to experience some amount of pain in the Achilles tendon, both during and after exercising.
However, the pain shouldn’t be severe, and the level of pain should quickly return to that experienced before performing the activity. Pain should not increase from day to day either. The exercise ‘Heel lifts with bended knees’ is great for improving stability and can be found in the training examples below.
Use the Injurymap screening tool to find out if you are ready to treat your Achilles tendon pain with rehabilitative exercises.
Stretching the leg muscles and the Achilles tendon is a core part of treating inflammation in the Achilles tendon. Stretches can be performed while standing on a staircase with your heels extending out over the stairstep.
Alternatively, you can use a wall, as in the example below. Stretching exercises should be performed slowly and must be held for around 30 seconds.
Strength Training is another important part of exercising. This builds op the ability of the Achilles tendon to withstand the pressure of daily activities, work, and sports without risking further damage. It typically takes between three to six months to build up sufficient strength in the Achilles tendon before you can resume heavy sporting activities safely.