Diseases & Conditions

Achilles Tendinitis


Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Achilles tendinitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, sometimes called the heel cord, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone.

What is going on in the body?

Achilles tendinitis is usually the result of an injury or tiny tears in the tendon fibers. Two types exist:

  • insertional, where the tendon attaches to the heel bone
  • noninsertional, which occurs slightly higher up the tendon
  • What are the causes and risks of the disease?

    Multiple factors may cause Achilles tendinitis. The most common is overuse of the tendon. Often, a sudden increase in training, running, mileage, or speed will bring on symptoms. Pressure from the hard back of an athletic shoe can irritate the tendon over the heel. Landing hard on the arch of the foot may contribute to the strain on the Achilles tendon.


    Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?

    Achilles tendinitis is associated with heel or ankle pain, usually slow in onset, and a limp, causing trouble running and jumping. Exercise can make the symptoms either better or worse. The discomfort varies from being just a nuisance to being very painful and restrictive.

    The back of the shoe may cause painful pressure on the attachment of the tendon to the heel bone. Sensitivity at the site of inflammation is a consistent sign. For noninsertional tendinitis, swelling is frequently seen and felt. Sometimes there is a rubbing feeling with gliding of the tendon as the ankle moves back and forth. The person may have trouble walking on his or her toes because of pain in the tendon.


    Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the disease diagnosed?

    Diagnosis is based on the symptoms and signs listed above. It's hard to see this condition in an X-ray, but sometimes hardening of the tendon can be observed or an abnormal piece of bone or bone spur is seen where the tendon connects to the back of the heel. X-rays may also show an unusual bump of the heel, which can rub and irritate the tendon.


    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the disease?

    Proper training and footwear are the best prevention. Stretching the calf muscles attached to the Achilles tendon is important before and after running or exercise. Using orthotics, or arch supports, in footwear can also help. Making sure that the back of the shoe is soft enough is another strategy.

    What are the long-term effects of the disease?

    Achilles tendinitis is usually not a permanent problem, although it may take a long time to heal. With repeated or severe stress, the Achilles tendon may rupture.

    What are the risks to others?

    There are no risks to others.


    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the disease?

    Achilles tendinitis will often respond to rest or changes in activity, stretching, ice after activity. NSAIDs, which are nonsteroidal anti- inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen may also help. Physical therapy focusing on stretching and strengthening, massage, alternating hot and cold baths, and ultrasound or sound waves can also help with healing and comfort. The temporary use of a heel lift or the insertion of an arch support, called an orthotic, into the shoe or sneaker can also help. Although seldom necessary, the ankle may be kept in a short leg cast or splint. Surgery is rarely needed but can remove bone spurs or the bony prominence of the heel bone. The injection of corticosteroids such as cortisone into the area of the Achilles tendon is usually avoided due to the risk that it will cause tendon rupture.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    NSAIDs may cause indigestion, ulcers, or gastrointestinal bleeding. They may also affect the kidneys or liver. Surgery has a risk of infection, tendon injury, or problems with skin healing in an area of poor blood supply.

    What happens after treatment for the disease?

    Without protection, rupture of the tendon can occur. After full recovery, a person is generally able to go back to regular activities.

    How is the disease monitored?

    Pain and swelling should be monitored for any worsening. Feeling a sudden "pop" usually means the tendon has ruptured, which requires a cast or surgery to avoid permanent disability.


    Attribution

    Author:John A.K. Davies, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:04/07/02
    Reviewer:Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Reviewed:09/19/01