The Achilles tendon joins the calf muscles to the heel bone and runs down the back of the lower leg. When this tendon is put under excess strain, it can become inflamed. This is Achilles tendinitis.
The most obvious sign is pain above your heel, especially when you stretch your ankle or stand on your toes. It may be mild and get better or worse over time. If the tendon ruptures, the pain is instant and severe. The area may also feel tender, swollen, and stiff. If your Achilles tendon tears, you may hear a snapping or popping noise when it happens. You could have bruising and swelling, too. You also may have trouble pointing your toes and pushing off your toes when you take a step.
There’s a variety of treatments available for Achilles tendonitis. These range from rest and ibuprofen to steroid injections and surgery. Sometimes, more conservative treatments are not effective. In these cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the Achilles tendon.
Try some conservative treatments first:
Rest and time off from sporting activities are important if you have Achilles tendinitis. At first, you should stop any high-impact activities or sports (such as running). As pain improves, you can restart exercise as your pain allows. It is thought that complete rest, if it is prolonged, can actually be worse for the injury. Talk to a physiotherapist about when you should start exercising again.
Ice treatment may be useful for pain control and may help to reduce swelling in the early stages of Achilles tendinitis. An ice pack should be applied for 10-30 minutes. Less than 10 minutes has little effect. More than 30 minutes may damage the skin. Make an ice pack by wrapping ice cubes in a plastic bag or towel. (Do not put ice directly next to skin, as it may cause ice burn.) Gently press the ice pack on to the injured part. The cold from the ice is thought to reduce blood flow to the damaged tendon. This may reduce pain. Do not leave ice on while asleep.
Achilles tendon exercises
Some special exercises to help to stretch and strengthen your Achilles tendon have been proven to be helpful. You should aim to do these every day. Such exercises may help with pain control and stiffness. A physiotherapist may be able to help you with these exercises as needed. They may also use other treatments such as ultrasound to help relieve symptoms and promote healing of your Achilles tendon.
An orthotics specialist may suggest changing your footwear or putting special inserts in your shoes, such as inserts to lift your heel. This may help to reduce pain and symptoms.
Severe pain around the Achilles tendon that develops suddenly may be a sign of tendon rupture. See a doctor urgently if you think that you may have ruptured your Achilles tendon.