Your Achilles may be the largest and strongest tendon in your body—it has to be to keep you walking, standing, running and jumping for a lifetime—but that doesn’t mean it’s indestructible. A common complaint among active adults, particularly middle-aged men, Achilles tendinitis can be a nuisance, but it’s also quite treatable and responds well to self-care.
Overuse Leads to Achilles Pain
High-impact sports and activities such as running, tennis, and basketball can put a lot of stress and strain on your tendons. Conditioned athletes can generally avoid too many problems with proper training and gradually building-up their tolerance, but those of us who qualify as “weekend warriors” are more susceptible to problems, especially men in their 30s or 40s—tendons tend to weaken with age. Other factors that increase your risk include flat feet, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some medications.
Repetitive strain causes tiny fibers in the Achilles to fray and tear. When they break down, the body responds with inflammation and swelling. You may experience discomfort, ranging from a dull, mild ache up to significant pain, particularly during athletic activities. Other common symptoms include stiffness and tenderness, a thickening of the tendon at the site of the injury, and bone spurs near where the tendon inserts into the heel.
Conservative Treatment Options
The good news is that, when treated early, Achilles tendinitis usually responds well to non-invasive home care, though it may take up to 3 months or more for symptoms to fully subside.
First, significantly decrease (or even completely stop) any athletic activities that led to the discomfort. To maintain your fitness, replace them with cross-training in low-impact exercises such as cycling, swimming, or strength training. Gentle stretches, particularly the standing calf stretch, are also helpful. Acute pain can be managed with aid of ice and OTC painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
Depending the extent of the damage, we may also recommend further conservative treatments. These may include additional physical therapy exercises, modifications to footwear, inserts, orthotics, or a walking boot. Heel lifts are often especially effective, as they minimize strain on the tendon.
Looking at Surgery
When cases are particularly severe, or non-invasive treatments have been ineffective, surgery may be considered. A number of procedures may be selected depending on your condition. Among others, these may include:
- Surgically lengthening your calf muscle (gastrocnemius recession)
- Removing damaged tissue and repairing the remaining portion of the tendon (debridement)
- Transferring a healthy tendon (usually the one that helps move your big toe downward) to fortify and repair the Achilles tendon
Recovery times vary based on the amount of damage that needs to be repaired. In some cases you may require up to 12 months of rehab before a full, pain-free recovery.
Taking Care of Your Troubled Tendon
Don’t wait until the damage and pain become severe to seek help for your Achilles tendinitis. When pain is persistent, seek the experts at Family Foot and Ankle Center in Greater Cincinnati. The sooner we begin the road to recovery, the more likely you will be able to avoid surgery and the quicker you can get back to your regular activities.
To schedule an appointment at one of our six conveniently located offices in Ohio and Kentucky, contact us through this website, or dial toll free 888-689-3317.