Achilles tendon and tendonitis

What is Achilles tendonitis?
The Achilles tendon is a long tendon in the back of the leg that connects the calf muscle to the heel. Achilles tendonitis occurs when this structure becomes inflamed or injured. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain above the heel that occurs while walking, running or climbing stairs
  • Swelling along the tendon
  • Thickening along the tendon
  • Pain that changes with activity, depending on injury

What are common Achilles tendon problems?
The two main problems found in the Achilles tendon are: Achilles tendinopathy. Achilles tendinopathy includes one of two conditions:

  • Tendinitis. This actually means "Inflammation of the tendon," but inflammation is rarely the cause of tendon pain.
  • Tendinosis. This refers to tiny tears (microtears) in the tissue in and around the tendon caused by overuse. In most cases Achilles tendon pain is the result of tendinosis, not tendinitis. Some experts now use the term tendinopathy to include both inflammation and microtears. But many doctors may still use the term tendinitis to describe a tendon injury.

Achilles tendon tear or rupture
An Achilles tendon also can partially tear or completely tear (rupture). A partial tear may cause mild or no symptoms. But a complete rupture causes pain and sudden loss of strength and movement.

Problems with the Achilles tendon may seem to happen suddenly, but usually they are the result of many tiny tears to the tendon that have happened over time.

How do I treat it?
First, reduce or cease activity to let your tendon rest and heal. A cold compress on the tendon can soothe the pain and help the healing process. Try not to run through the pain, as Achilles tendonitis may increase the chance for Achilles rupture, which requires surgical intervention. For mild tendonitis, rest and ice will allow you to gradually return to sport.

If symptoms continue after one week, visit a physical therapist who specializes in sports. He or she can evaluate your condition, discuss your level of activity and goals, and prescribe an individualized treatment plan. The sooner you seek treatment, the faster you will be on the road to recovery.