The Achilles tendon is a band of fibrous tissue that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Essential for walking, running, and jumping, this strong but flexible tendon bears significant stress during sports as well as many everyday activities.
While virtually anyone can develop an Achilles tendon injury, certain factors can increase the risk, such as participating in vigorous physical activity, starting a new sport, working out on an uneven surface, neglecting to sufficiently stretch the calf muscles prior to exercise, and wearing improper shoes. Additionally, bone spurs that form on the back of the heel can press against the Achilles tendon, causing it to become inflamed.
Types of Achilles Tendon Injuries
The two main causes of Achilles tendon pain are:
- Achilles tendinitis – Through repetitive strain, tiny tears (microtears) can gradually develop in the Achilles tendon, causing it to become irritated, inflamed, and swollen. Microtears can form in the middle fibers of the tendon (non-insertional Achilles tendinitis) or at the point where the tendon meets the heel bone (insertional Achilles tendinitis).
- Achilles tendon rupture – The Achilles tendon can partially or completely tear. This type of injury often results from a sudden force that stresses the calf muscle, which can occur during a fall, collision, or direct blow.
What Are the Symptoms of an Achilles Tendon Injury?
A hallmark sign of Achilles tendon damage is aching pain at the back of the calf near the heel. Other common symptoms include:
- Stiffness and tenderness in the Achilles tendon that is worse in the morning and improves with movement
- Calf and heel pain that worsen with activity
- Swelling and thickening of the Achilles tendon
- An inability to bend the affected foot downward or “push off” while walking
- An inability to rise up on the toes of the affected foot
- A feeling of having been kicked in the calf
- Sudden, sharp pain accompanied by a “popping” sound that seems to come from the back of the calf or heel (signs of an Achilles tendon rupture)
Because the symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury can be very similar to the symptoms of a sprained ankle, it is important to consult with a medical professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis. In general, the diagnostic process will include a health history and symptom review, physical examination of the Achilles tendon, range-of-motion testing, and imaging. X-rays can help a physician detect heel bone spurs as well as calcification or hardening of the tendon, while magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can help a physician determine the extent of the tendon damage.
How Is an Achilles Tendon Injury Treated?
Treatment for an Achilles tendon injury can vary depending on the severity of the damage. For instance, a physician may suggest one or more of the following options:
- Ice applications
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Physical therapy, including exercises designed to strengthen the calf muscles
- Substituting high-impact activities that stress the Achilles tendon, such as running, with low-impact activities, such as swimming and cycling
- A cast, splint, boot, orthotic, or heel lift
If conservative treatment does not produce satisfactory results within several weeks, or if the Achilles tendon is ruptured, surgery may be suggested. The type of procedure considered will depend on the location and extent of the tendon damage. For instance, a surgeon may perform debridement surgery to remove damaged tissue and bone spurs and repair the torn tendon.
Consult With an Orthopedic Specialist
If you are experiencing symptoms of Achilles tendon damage, you can confidently entrust your care to Peter D. Vizzi, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist who practices in Lafayette, Louisiana. Dr. Vizzi is pleased to offer state-of-the-art treatment options—both conservative and surgical—for Achilles tendon injuries. To stay abreast of the latest advances in his field, he regularly attends industry conferences and continuing medical education seminars, reviews current literature, and maintains his certification with the American Board of Orthopedic Surgeons.
If you’d like to explore your treatment options for an Achilles tendon injury, contact Dr. Vizzi’s office in Lafayette, LA, today to schedule a consultation.