The Achilles tendon is located behind the leg and connects the calf muscles to the heel. This tendon is susceptible to injury, especially from over-usage within activities such as football, tennis, basketball and running; the risk of injury increases with age. The most common condition complained about is called Achilles Tendonitis and a trip to the doctor often points the patient to self-care with home remedies and over-the-counter medicines. Any injury beyond tendonitides such as a tear or rupture usually requires surgery.
The pain one may experience with tendonitis is a dull, mild ache behind the shin and above the heel and frequently flares up after the strenuous activity. Activities that pull the tendon such as climbing stairs, greatly strain the Achilles causing more intense pain. When this happens, it is important to see a doctor, as there may be a more severe issue present. Some of the testing done to diagnose the severity of an Achilles injury are:
- An MRI will provide a very vivid and detailed picture of the Achilles tendon and its injury.
- X-rays can rule out other issues that may be causing pain besides Achilles tendonitis.
- An ultrasound will give live pictures and the use of colored-doppler can visualize the flow of blood to, from and around the tendon.
If the injury is severe, the following may be required:
- Physical Therapy: can provide certain strengthening exercises to enforce the tendon itself and the area around it. In addition, the therapist may want to do eccentric-training using a small weight as the leg is let back down–the resistance has been known to be of great value for frequent Achillies issues.
- Orthopedic devices can be prescribed to lessen the force and weight on the Achilles as promoting healing
- Surgery may be the last option if the injury is very severe. A surgeon can repair the Achilles, which will require a longer recovery period.
If the injury is found to be minor and advanced treatments are not necessary, here are some self-care suggestions to help ease the pain of Achilles Tendonitis and enhance healing.
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as Naprosyn and Ibuprofen will take swelling down, in addition to alleviating pain. These types of medicines can be hard on the stomach so it’s helpful to take them on a full stomach.
- Wrap an ACE bandage around the affected lower leg–make it snug, but not so tight that it impedes circulation. This will keep swelling down and limit movement of the tendon while it heals.
- Rest the affected leg by not putting any weight on it as much as possible; this may mean you need to use crutches if you plan on doing a lot of ambulating.
- When sitting or laying down, raise the leg up on a pillow. This will decrease swelling by moving the fluids away from the injured area.
- If there is a lot of swelling and pain, you can ice the area for a maximum of 15-minutes each time as needed.
- Use an effective Achilles tendon strap, found over-the-counter. An effective Achilles tendon strap (along with other self-care remedies) may alleviate pain by decreasing the force on the Achilles tendon; it does this by dispersing the pressure over a larger area and providing early heel-rise.
- The doctor may offer instructions for therapeutic stretches that can help the tendon from shrinking by strengthening it.
The more patience, rest and care that is put into healing the Achilles tendon, the sooner full recovery can be reached. However, follow-up care may be necessary if there is delayed healing or repeat-injury during the healing process.