Achilles tendinopathy (sometimes called Achilles tendinitis) is a painful condition common in basketball players, runners, hikers and tennis players. Running and jumping places strain on your Achilles tendon and can cause damage. When you don't give your tendon enough time to heal between training sessions, the damage accumulates until you begin to experience pain behind your heel or behind your ankle. Once that happens, it's important to schedule an appointment with a podiatric sports medicine professional, as Achilles tendinopathy can worsen without treatment. Before your appointment, here's what you need to know about Achilles tendinopathy.
What Is Achilles Tendinopathy?
Achilles tendinopathy is a degenerative injury caused by overuse. When you place excessive stress on your Achilles tendon from running or jumping, you sometimes create microscopic tears in your tendon. If you don't give these tears enough time to heal, they'll continue to get worse until you're suffering from Achilles tendinopathy. That's why Achilles tendinopathy is common in runners who have just added incline running to their training or who are increasing their mileage too quickly.
What Are the Symptoms of Achilles Tendinopathy?
The earliest sign of Achilles tendinopathy is pain in your Achilles region shortly after physical activity. With insertional Achilles tendinopathy, the pain will be behind your heel. In non-insertional Achilles tendinopathy, the pain will be behind your ankle. If your tendinopathy goes untreated, the pain will become more severe and you will begin to experience pain during physical activity. It may even begin to interfere with your daily life. For most patients, the pain will be worst in the morning, get slightly better with movement and then return once you sit or lie down.
How Is Achilles Tendinopathy Prevented?
Since Achilles tendinopathy is an overuse injury, the best way to prevent it is to avoid over-training. Increase your training schedule gradually to give your Achilles tendon enough time to adjust to the new load, and give yourself enough rest in-between training sessions so that your Achilles tendon can heal from the stress. While many athletes are focused on training as hard as possible, Achilles tendinopathy can sideline you for up to six months – it's better to train gradually instead of injuring yourself and being unable to train.
People with low arches (sometimes referred to as flat feet) are often at a higher risk of Achilles tendinopathy. Some people with low arches curve their feet inwards slightly whenever they run, which is referred to as over-pronation. Over-pronation places extra stress on your Achilles tendon, which can quickly lead to overuse injury. If you have low arches, ask your podiatrist for recommendations on which shoe to wear during sports – shoes with mobility stabilizers can prevent over-pronation and your podiatrist may also prescribe orthotics to stabilize your foot.
How Is Achilles Tendinopathy Treated?
In most cases, your podiatric sports medicine specialist will recommend a conservative approach to treating Achilles tendinopathy. You'll be required to rest your Achilles tendon while it heals itself. It can take up to six months before your tendon has fully healed. You may be prescribed a special boot to wear during the first stage of the healing process in order to prevent stress on your Achilles tendon. During the healing process, your doctor will prescribe gentle stretching exercises to aid in recovery. You'll be given a timeline for when you can resume light physical activity and when you can return to running or playing sports.
If your Achilles tendinopathy doesn't improve after six months or if it significantly interferes in your daily life, surgery can be considered. During surgery, damaged tissue in your Achilles tendon will be removed in order to allow viable tendon tissue to regrow in its place. Surgery for Achilles tendinopathy is typically successful in relieving pain and restoring function.
Suffering from Achilles tendinopathy is frustrating for athletes since it prevents you from training. Schedule an appointment with a podiatrist that specializes in sports medicine as soon as you feel pain in your Achilles region – your podiatrist will treat your Achilles tendinopathy and work with you to help you get back to training as soon as possible without causing further injury to your tendon.