Achilles Tendon Injuries (and Treatments)
The Achilles tendon is incredibly strong. In fact, out of the 4,000 or so tendons that connect muscles to bones throughout your body, the two Achilles tendons at the back of the heel are the thickest and toughest of them all.
It’s no wonder this is the case. Without strong, flexible Achilles tendons, you wouldn’t be able to run, jump, dance, play sports, or do almost any of the things you love to do. When you consider the amount of force and pressure they have to withstand with each powerful push off and every landing, you realize what an incredible job they do every day.
But unfortunately, it’s also no wonder that despite their strength, Achilles tendon injuries are relatively common—especially if you’re an athlete, middle aged or older, or both.
They can range in severity from mild, chronic aches to painful and traumatic tears, but in any case you’re going to want to seek the help of podiatric sports injury specialist like Dr. Marizeli Olacio, and her team at Omega Medical Group (OMG).
Fortunately, we have many advanced options to treat your injury, keep you as active as possible while you recover, and get you back to full speed as quickly as we can.
Achilles Tendon Injuries
Normally when we talk about common injuries to the Achilles tendon, we’re usually talking about two conditions in particular: Achilles tendinitis and Achilles tendon ruptures.
We’ll start with Achilles tendinitis.
This term can refer to any kind of irritation, inflammation, or even degeneration in the fibers of the Achilles tendon that causes chronic pain. There are two main types:
- Insertional Achilles tendinitis occurs at the back of the heel, where the tendon inserts into the heel bone. It’s more common in older athletes who have been running or playing sports for many years.
- Non-insertional Achilles tendinitis occurs near the middle of the tendon—more toward the back of the ankle than the heel. Tendon fibers break down, leading to thickened and hardened tissue. Younger athletes tend to get this type of tendinitis more frequently.
In either case, the primary culprit is usually overuse and repetitive stress and strain to the tendon, typically from running or sports. Switching sports, suddenly increasing the intensity of your workouts by a significant degree, wearing poor shoes, tight calf muscles, and other factors may increase your risk.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include pain and stiffness in the tendon, especially in the morning or the day after exercise. Swelling and thickness in the tendon may be present, and you may even develop a bone spur (if you have insertional tendinitis).
Achilles Tendon Rupture
Tendinitis is what happens when the tendon fibers become irritated or inflamed. Ruptures happen when they finally tear—sometimes only partially, sometimes clean through.
As you might imagine, this injury is often very sudden and quite painful. You might feel like you’ve just gotten kicked (or even stabbed) in the back of the calf. You may even hear a popping noise.
That’s usually followed by a lot of swelling near the back of the heel. Depending on the severity of the rupture, it may be difficult to impossible for you to bend your foot downward, “push off” the injured leg, or stand on your toes with the injured leg.
As with Achilles tendinitis, tendon ruptures tend to occur most commonly in active adults, particularly if you’re older than 30 years old. Again, suddenly increasing the intensity of your athletic training before your body has a chance to adjust is often at fault.
Treatment for Achilles Tendon Injuries
Achilles tendon injuries are extremely important to treat quickly and properly—not just to help you ease the pain, but also to help you avoid potential long-term complications.
Untreated tendinitis tends to worsen, breaking the tendon fibers down further and further, until you’re in pain all the time. And the weaker the tendon gets, the more likely you’ll eventually suffer a rupture.
Likewise, a rupture that isn’t treated properly or doesn’t heal correctly is very likely to rupture again. And your athletic performance will suffer, too, because you aren’t able to regain your former level of strength and explosiveness.
Tendinitis can almost always be treated successfully without surgery, and often mostly at home using self-care methods. You might need to go easy on the tendon for a short time. Furthermore, we can provide orthotics and instruct you through physical therapy exercises to help you promote healing and strengthening of your tendon.
That said, we understand that, to most athletes and active people, “rest” is a dirty word. For those that have more serious tendinitis or just want to recover and get back to their sport as quickly as possible, we also offer regenerative treatments such as Clarix Flo.
This is a game-changing injection therapy that harnesses the powerful healing and growth proteins of amniotic material to reduce pain and inflammation, accelerate tissue regeneration, limit scar tissue formation and more.
In some cases, even tendon ruptures can be treated without surgery, though this is usually not the preferred treatment course for athletes itching to get back in the game as quickly as possible.
Most patients with Achilles tendon ruptures do prefer surgical repair, especially those who are younger and more active overall. Of course individual results vary, but surgically repaired tendons tend to heal faster and stronger, rehab more easily, and are less likely (on average) to rupture again.
The procedure involves making a small incision along the back of your lower leg, then simply stitching the torn ends of the tendon back together. If the tendon is badly damaged, it may be necessary to reinforce it with a tendon transferred from another part of your body.
At OMG, we use advanced minimally invasive and cosmetic surgical techniques whenever possible. This provides additional advantages, including faster healing, lower risk of complications, and less scarring.
Whether your rupture is treated non-surgical or surgically, we can utilize Clarix Flo, as well as alternative exercises and early weight bearing rehab plan, to speed along recovery as quickly as possible.
Keeping You Active
After a tendon injury, it’s important to follow your rehabilitation plan closely. We know you’re itching to get back in the game, so we always tailor our post-injury and post-surgery rehab plans to help you stay as active as possible during recovery and get you back to full strength as quickly as possible.
In addition to orthotics and specific exercises, we may provide you with a list of alternative activities to try that will help you fulfill some of your need for action and you keep you positive, while not overstressing your healing tendon.
In short, if you want the best care for your lower limb sports injury, trust the experts at OMG.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Olacio and the rest of our team, please call us today at (305) 514-0404.