The Achilles tendon was named for one of the most famous heroes in Greek mythology. His heel was said to be the only weak point on his otherwise invincible body—a poisoned arrow to that tendon is supposedly what killed him. The tendon seems to be well-named. That single rope of connective tissue moves the whole foot and plays a significant part in walking and running. When it becomes injured, your overall mobility can suffer. The two major problems of the Achilles tendon are called tendinopathy and rupture.
When It Aches
Tendinopathy breaks down into two major areas: tendinitis and tendinosis. Tendinitis is an inflammation of the connective tissue. It’s caused by too much strain, usually related to high impact exercise, like running. Poor shoes, tight calf muscles, flat arches, and obesity also stress the tendon. Tendinosis refers to tiny tears, or micro tears, in the tissue. Insufficient warm up and overuse, especially through intense activity, is the general culprit. Tendinosis comes on gradually; the Achilles starts out stiff and sore and feels worse over time unless it is treated. Both conditions result in the Achilles tendon becoming weaker and at high risk for developing a more serious injury. If caught early, tendinitis and tendinosis can often be treated quite successfully with conservative remedies.
When It Snaps
A rupture of the Achilles tendon is exactly what it sounds like: a partial or complete tear of the tissue. While tendinopathy is characterized by gradually increasing discomfort, a rupture is felt immediately. Sometimes you even hear a “pop” as the tendon tears or snaps. Not only do you feel a sharp pain, your foot will become weaker and you will have a hard time walking or even moving. You might also notice bruising around the ankle and heel. If you think you may have partially or completely torn a tendon in your ankle, don’t wait to seek treatment—this issue will not resolve on its own. Pequest Foot and Ankle Specialists will evaluate your ankle and see if conservative remedies will be enough to heal the injury, or if surgery will be required to regain your ability to move your foot.
When It Needs Help
Many treatments for Achilles problems are conservative and help you both eliminate pain and prevent more serious injuries down the line. We’ll need to evaluate a tendon injury to best determine a course of action, but many times rest, icing, and anti-inflammatory medications are effective. Surgery to correct a serious or persistent problem may become necessary if simpler remedies don’t seem to be working.
Athletes and active people who put a lot of stress on their feet and ankles are at the highest risk for injury, but anyone who walks or runs regularly can develop problems in the Achilles tendon. Increased age and poor general health are often contributors. Middle-aged men are the most likely age group to develop tendinitis in the Achilles. People who are overweight, have high blood pressure, or diabetes also have an increased risk.
Proper conditioning, like regular stretching and warm up, makes a significant difference in injuries to the connective tissues. Don’t suddenly increase the time or intensity you spend on an exercise, either—build your strength slowly. Wearing properly supportive footwear, and replacing worn shoes, braces the heel and arch and decreases strain on the tendon.
Your tendons don’t have to be your figurative Achilles heel—proper care can both resolve and prevent serious injury and pain. Don’t ignore what could be a simple problem now, only to deal with a more complicated foot problem later. If you’re experiencing heel discomfort, Dr. Gerald Mauriello is available to get your feet and ankles back on track for a pain-free lifestyle. Contact him in Belvidere, New Jersey or in Hackettstown, New Jersey for an appointment or more information by calling (908) 475-8750 or visiting the contact page online.