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Achilles Tendinitis The Facts

Overview

Achilles TendinitisThe Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. Tendons are long, tough cords of tissue that connect muscle to bone. The Achilles tendon is located in the back of the foot and connects your heel bone to your calf muscle. It helps you to walk, run and jump. The Achilles tendon is able to endure stress, but sometimes injury can occur to the tendon when overly stressed. Overuse of the Achilles tendon may cause the tendon to swell, become irritated, inflamed and cause pain. This is Achilles tendinitis. It is a common sports injury related to running, but can happen to anyone who puts a lot of stress on their feet (e.g.: basketball players and dancers). If you do not get treatment for Achilles tendinitis, the problem can become chronic and make it difficult for you to walk.




Causes

Most common in middle-aged men. Conditions affecting the foot structure (such as fallen arches). Running on uneven, hilly ground, or in poor quality shoes. Diabetes. High blood pressure. Certain antibiotics. ?Weekend Warriors?. Recent increase in the intensity of an exercise program. While Achilles tendinitis can flare up with any overuse or strain of the Achilles tendon, it most often affects middle-aged men, especially if they are ?weekend warriors? who are relatively sedentary during the week, then decide to play basketball or football on Saturday. Those with flat feet or other structural conditions affecting their feet tend to put excess strain on the Achilles tendon, increasing their chances of developing Achilles tendinitis or even rupturing the tendon. If you are a runner, be sure to only run in quality running shoes that are supportive and well cushioned, and to be mindful of the surface you?re running on. Uneven surfaces and especially hilly terrain put additional strain on your Achilles tendon and can lead to the condition.




Symptoms

Achilles tendonitis may be felt as a burning pain at the beginning of activity, which gets less during activity and then worsens following activity. The tendon may feel stiff first thing in the morning or at the beginning of exercise. Achilles tendonitis usually causes pain, stiffness, and loss of strength in the affected area. The pain may get worse when you use your Achilles tendon. You may have more pain and stiffness during the night or when you get up in the morning. The area may be tender, red, warm, or swollen if there is inflammation. You may notice a crunchy sound or feeling when you use the tendon.




Diagnosis

A doctor or professional therapist will confirm a diagnosis, identify and correct possible causes, apply treatment and prescribe eccentric rehabilitation exercises. An MRI or Ultrasound scan can determine the extent of the injury and indicate a precise diagnosis. Gait analysis along with a physical assessment will identify any possible biomechanical factors such as over pronation which may have contributed to the achilles tendonitis and training methods will be considered. Biomechanical problems can be corrected with the use of orthotic inserts and selection of correct footwear.




Nonsurgical Treatment

Treating Achilles tendinitis rarely requires much professional intervention. Ease the pain with OTC pain killers. Stretch and strengthen the Achilles tendon. Stop the condition from happening again. Doctors treating Achilles tendinitis will recommend the following options for accomplishing this. Pain Killers - Generally ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) will ease the mild pain. Physical Therapy, Stretches and exercises devised to lengthen and strengthen the Achilles tendon will help reduce pain and prevent future recurrence. Orthopedic Supports, Heel-elevating insoles or other orthotic devices can reduce the strain on the Achilles tendon, helping ease the inflammation and pain.

Achilles Tendon




Surgical Treatment

Percutaneous Achilles Tendon Surgery. During this procedure the surgeon will make 3 to 4 incisions (approx. 2.5 cm long) on both sides of the Achilles tendon. Small forceps are used to free the tendon sheath (the soft tissue casing around your Achilles tendon) to make room for the surgeon to stitch/suture any tears. Skilled surgeons may perform a percutaneous achilles tendon surgery with ultrasound imaging techniques to allow for blink suturing with stab incisions made by a surgical suture needle. This procedure can be done in 3 different ways depending on the preference and experience of your surgeon. Instead of making several 2.5 cm incisions for this procedure, some surgeons will use guided imaging with an ultrasound to see the Achilles tendon tissue without having to open up your ankle. For this technique, they will use a surgical needle to repeatedly stab your Achilles tendon. These "stab incisions" will allow the surgeon to "blindly" suture your tendon without seeing the actual tissue. As another option - some surgeons will only make 1 to 3 incisions for smaller surgical implements to repair your tendon while relying on imaging ultrasound to see your damaged tissue. During either procedure the use of ultrasound imaging or endoscopic techniques requires a very skilled surgeon.




Prevention

There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of Achilles tendinitis, warm up every time before you exercise or play a sport. Switch up your exercises. Slowly increase the length and intensity of your workouts. Keep your muscles active and stay in shape all year-round. When you see symptoms of Achilles tendinitis, stop whatever activity you are doing and rest.