You may understand the freedom of the open road, but do you ever take for granted your ability to walk or run on it? We don’t often pay attention to the mechanics involved in walking or running until the machine breaks down. The Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona understand the importance of caring for the feet and ankles. We want you to continue to experience the joys of mobility and this means caring for your Achilles tendon.

Common Achilles tendon injuries include tendinitis, as well as more serious tendon tearing known as an Achilles tendon rupture.

Achilles Tendinitis

When pain strikes from the back of the calf muscle to the bottom of the heel bone, your Achilles tendon is in need of podiatric care. This band of tissue is responsible for our ability to walk, run, and jump. Grab the back of your ankle and point your toes up and down; you can feel it.

When this tendon is injured it becomes swollen and painful. Too much force on the tendon can even make it tear or rupture completely. This type of injury is referred to as tendonitis.

What Are The Causes?

Most commonly the injury is found in active individuals who participate in sports such as baseball, basketball, dance, football, gymnastics, running, softball, tennis, and volleyball. It is most likely a result of abrupt, tense, starting movements, much like when a sprinter begins a race.

Other causes include:

  • Not stretching enough before exercise
  • Sudden increase in activity level
  • Wearing high heels
  • Flat feet, fallen arches, and overpronation
  • Muscles and tendons that are too tight

What Are The Symptoms?

When the Achilles tendon becomes injured you will experience pain along the back of your ankle, just above the heel and extending to the back of the calf muscle. Pain is heightened when the ankle is stretched or the individual stands on their toes. Depending on the severity of your tendinitis, pain varies from mild to severe. Without treatment, symptoms worsen over time.

If you’ve strained this band, you may be experiencing one or more of the following:

  • Difficulty flexing and pointing the toes
  • Hearing a popping noise at the point of injury
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness

What Are The Treatment Options?

If the injury that you have sustained is mild enough, it will heal on its own. During this healing process, we recommend rest and elevation for the affected leg. Avoid placing weight on the foot, and ice the leg for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours until the pain is gone. They may have you take anti-inflammatory painkillers such as Advil, Aleve, or Motrin to decrease the amount of pain and swelling. When the ankle is mobile enough, partake in stretching exercises recommended by your podiatric doctor.

These techniques will typically alleviate the pain; however, in severe cases the Achilles tendon may require surgery. Surgical procedures repair the tendon or remove excess tissue, and a cast is required for 6 to 10 weeks.

Achilles Tendon Ruptures

It generally happens without warning. For a moment your feet and legs are doing what they are supposed to do, then in the next moment things change. Your ankle hurts and you can barely move your foot, much less walk. If this sounds familiar, you may have ruptured your Achilles tendon.

Many tears are from overuse, especially related to sudden activity or poor conditioning. Athletes, men over 30, and senior citizens have the highest risks for this kind of damage. If you are older or mostly sedentary, and try to become very active in a short period of time, your tendon may not be able to handle the strain. Existing foot conditions that put extra pressure on the heel, such as bad arches, can weaken the tendon and make it prone to injury. Hard impacts and sudden push-offs also stress the connecting tissues, so many activities are considered “high-risk,” including running, dance, gymnastics, and traditional sports.

This is a painful and serious injury that needs urgent care. However, with time and the right treatment, you should be able to bounce back to your normal routine.

Sudden Pop, Sudden Stop

When you rupture your Achilles, you feel a sharp, immediate pain. Sometimes you can hear a “pop” or “snap” as the connecting tissue tears. Your foot will get significantly weaker, making it harder to move around. In a partial tear, you may find that you can still point your toes and use your foot to push off, though it will be painful. If you have torn it completely, however, you won’t have any strength to push off the ground, making walking very challenging. The area around your heel and ankle will swell and possibly bruise. After it happens, it is very important to seek treatment right away. The longer a tear or rupture is left alone, the harder it is to remedy and the longer it takes to heal.

Repairing the Damage

A partial tear has multiple options. Depending on the severity of your injury and pain, w can offer some conservative options for healing. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications help bring down the swelling. You may be asked to keep your ankle elevated for a time. Your foot will need to be immobilized while the tendon heals, so you may have to wear a cast, splint, brace, or boot. Likely you will perform a number of physical therapy exercises to stretch and strengthen the tendon. If your Achilles does not seem to be healing, the original injury is significant, or you re-damage it, you may need corrective surgery.

A complete tear of the tissues generally requires surgery to reconnect the severed ends and allow them to grow together again. The experts at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona will examine your foot and ankle to determine if it is a true rupture, then advise you about surgery. After the procedure, your foot will be held in a cast, splint, brace, or boot while it heals. You’ll need to perform physical therapy exercises, too, once we can say you’re ready to stretch and build up strength.

Saving Yourself the Pain

Because this is frequently an overuse injury, it is possible to avoid the distress altogether with some simple prevention measures. Good, supportive shoes or custom orthotics relieve stress on the ankle and Achilles. Proper warm up and cool down, including stretches, help the tissues relax. Building up strength over time, especially through cross-training, gives your muscles and connectors a chance to adjust to activities and handle the pressure.

If your Achilles tendon has been causing you pain, contact the Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona today! We’re more than happy to help you on your way to recovery.