The Achilles tendon injury is one of the more serious sports injuries, for professional and amateur athletes alike.
The Achilles tendon is one of the longer tendons in your body, stretching from the bones of your heel to your calf muscles. You can feel it — a springy band of tissue at the back of your ankle and above your heel. It allows you to extend your foot and point your toes to the floor.
But unfortunately, it’s also the most commonly injured tendon. Many Achilles tendon injuries are cases of tendonitis, in which the tendon is swollen and painful. In a severe Achilles tendon injury, too much force on the tendon causes it to tear partially or rupture completely.
What Can Cause Achilles Tendon Injuries?
An Achilles tendon injury might be caused by:
- Stepping up your level of physical activity too quickly.
- Not stretching enough before exercise.
- Wearing high heels, which increases the stress on the tendon.
- Problems with the feet. An Achilles tendon injury can result from flat feet, also known as fallen arches or overpronation. In this condition, the impact of a step causes the arch of your foot to collapse, stretching the muscles and tendons.
- Muscles or tendons in the leg that are too tight.
Achilles tendon injuries are common in sports like:
You’re more likely to tear an Achilles tendon when you start moving suddenly. For instance, a sprinter might get one at the start of a race. The abrupt tensing of the muscle can be too much for the tendon to handle. Men over 30 are particularly prone to Achilles tendon injuries.
What Does an Achilles Tendon Injury Feel Like?
Symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury are:
- Pain along the back of your foot and above your heel, especially when stretching your ankle or standing on your toes. Pain may be mild and worsen gradually, in cases of tendonitis. Or it can be abrupt and severe with ruptures.
- Hearing a snapping, popping noise during the injury.
- Difficulty flexing your foot or pointing your toes (in complete tears of the tendon).
To diagnose an Achilles tendon injury, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. He or she may want to see you walk or run to look for problems that might have contributed to your Achilles tendon injury.
What’s the Treatment for an Achilles Tendon Injury?
As debilitating as they can be, the good news is that minor to moderate Achilles tendon injuries should heal on their own. You just need to give them time.
To speed the healing, you can:
- Rest your leg. Avoid putting weight on your leg as best you can. You may need crutches.
- Ice your leg to reduce pain and swelling. Experts recommend doing this for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days, or until the pain is gone.
- Compress your leg. Use an elastic bandage around the lower leg and ankle to keep down swelling.
- Elevate your leg on a pillow when you’re sitting or lying down.
- Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
- Use a heel lift. Your doctor may recommend that you wear an insert in your shoe while you recover. It will protect your Achilles tendon from further stretching.
- Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.
Usually, these techniques will do the trick. But in severe cases of Achilles tendon injury, you may need a cast for 6-10 weeks, or even surgery to repair the tendon or remove excess tissue.
When Will I Feel Better?
Of course, what you really want to know is when you can back in the game. Recovery time may take months, but it really depends on how serious your Achilles tendon injury is. Different conditions heal at different rates.
While you get better, take up a new activity that won’t aggravate your Achilles tendon. For instance, runners should try swimming.
Don’t rush things. Do not try to return to your old level of physical activity until:
- You can move your leg as easily and freely as your uninjured leg.
- Your leg feels as strong as your uninjured leg.
- You feel no pain in your leg when you walk, jog, sprint, or jump.
If you start pushing yourself before your Achilles tendon injury is fully healed, you could wind up with permanent pain and disability.
How Can I Prevent an Achilles Tendon Injury?
There are things you can do to prevent an Achilles tendon injury. You should:
- Always stretch your leg muscles and Achilles tendons before and after physical activity — more often if your muscles and tendons are tight.
- Cut down on uphill running.
- Wear shoes with good support that fit well.
- Always increase the intensity of your physical activity slowly.
- Stop exercising if you feel pain or tightness in the back of your calf or heel.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call Non-Surgical Orthopaedics, P.C. at 770-421-1420 for an appointment today.