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Concerning Achilles Tendonitis

Overview

Achilles TendonAchilles Tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles Tendon. This tendon attaches the muscles in the calf of the leg to the back of our heels. The Achilles Tendon is a long and thick tendon, which moves our foot down, so that the toes point to the ground (plantar flexion). This tendon can become inflamed due to the following causes. Over utilizing it, such as too much running, especially up or down hill. Trauma, such as a kick to the tendon. Shoe or boot pressure, especially at its attachment to the heel, or just above it. There are over 250,000 injuries to the Achilles Tendon annually. In fact, more Than 10% of all running injuries are to the Achilles tendon. Tendonitis may be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute Achilles Tendonitis comes on quickly, usually after a specific activity or event. It is characterized by an overstretching or tearing of some of the small fibers of the tendon, and causes pain or tenderness when walking or running. It can occur at the insertion (near the attachment to the heel bone, or further up the leg, about 4 or 5 inches above the heel. Acute tendonitis can also follow a specific injury, such as a kick to the tendon while playing soccer. Chronic Achilles Tendonitis develops gradually over time. Many times, you can feel an obvious thickening of the tendon that may be tender when squeezed, due to long standing scarring of the tendon. Pain is also present when walking or during other forms of activity, and feels better at rest.




Causes

There are several factors that can contribute to achilles tendonitis. First, you should know that the biggest contributor to chronic achilles tendonitis is ignoring pain in your achilles tendon and running through the pain of early achilles tendonitis. If your achilles tendon is getting sore it is time to pay attention to it, immediately. Sudden increases in training can contribute to achilles tendonitis. Excessive hill running or a sudden addition of hills and speed work can also contribute to this problem. Two sole construction flaws can also aggravate achilles tendonitis. The first is a sole that is too stiff, especially at the ball of the foot. (In case you are having difficulty locating the "ball" of your foot, I mean the part where the toes join the foot and at which the foot bends) If this area is stiff than the "lever arm" of the foot is longer and the achilles tendon will be under increased tension and the calf muscles must work harder to lift the heel off the ground. The second contributing shoe design factor which may lead to continuing achilles tendon problem is excessive heel cushioning. Air filled heels, while supposedly are now more resistant to deformation and leaks are not good for a sore achilles tendon. The reason for this is quite simple. If you are wearing a shoe that is designed to give great heel shock absorption what frequently happens is that after heel contact, the heel continues to sink lower while the shoe is absorbing the shock. This further stretches the achilles tendon, at a time when the leg and body are moving forward over the foot. Change your shoes to one without this "feature". Of course another major factor is excessive tightness of the posterior leg muscles, the calf muscles and the hamstrings may contribute to prolonged achilles tendonitis. Gentle calf stretching should be performed preventatively. During a bout of acute achilles tendonitis, however, overly exuberant stretching should not be performed.




Symptoms

Symptoms vary because you can injure various areas of the muscle-tendon complex. The pain may be an acute or chronic sharp, stabbing, piercing, shooting, burning or aching. It is often most noticeable immediately after getting out of bed in the morning, or after periods of inactivity, like sitting down for lunch. After a couple minutes of walking around, it will often then settle down somewhat, before becoming symptomatic again after excessive time standing or walking. But regardless of how the pain is perceived, Achilles tendon pain should not be left untreated due to the danger that the tendon can become weak, frayed, thickened, and eventually it may rupture.




Diagnosis

There is enlargement and warmth of the tendon 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Pain and sometimes a scratching feeling may be created by gently squeezing the tendon between the thumb and forefinger during ankle motion. There may be weakness in push-off strength with walking. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can define the extent of degeneration, the degree to which the tendon sheath is involved and the presence of other problems in this area, but the diagnosis is mostly clinical.




Nonsurgical Treatment

The recommended treatment for Achilles tendinitis consists of icing, gentle stretching, and modifying or limiting activity. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naprosyn, can reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy and the use of an orthosis (heel lift) can also be helpful. For chronic cases where tendinosis is evident and other methods of treatment have failed, surgery may be recommended to remove and repair the damaged tissue.

Achilles Tendonitis




Surgical Treatment

Open Achilles Tendon Surgery is the traditional Achilles tendon surgery and remains the 'gold standard' of surgery treatments. During this procedure one long incision (10 to 17 cm in length) is made slightly on an angle on the back on your lower leg/heel. An angled incision like this one allows for the patient's comfort during future recovery during physical therapy and when transitioning back into normal footwear. Open surgery is performed to provide the surgeon with better visibility of the Achilles tendon. This visibility allows the surgeon to remove scar tissue on the tendon, damaged/frayed tissue and any calcium deposits or bone spurs that have formed in the ankle joint. Once this is done, the surgeon will have a full unobstructed view of the tendon tear and can precisely re-align/suture the edges of the tear back together. An open incision this large also provides enough room for the surgeon to prepare a tendon transfer if it's required. When repairing the tendon, non-absorbale sutures may be placed above and below the tear to make sure that the repair is as strong as possible. A small screw/anchor is used to reattach the tendon back to the heel bone if the Achilles tendon has been ruptured completely. An open procedure with precise suturing improves overall strength of your Achilles tendon during the recovery process, making it less likely to re-rupture in the future.




Prevention

Although Achilles tendinitis cannot be completely prevented, the risk of developing it can be lowered. Being aware of the possible causes does help, but the risk can be greatly reduced by taking the following precautions. Getting a variety of exercise - alternating between high-impact exercises (e.g. running) and low-impact exercise (e.g. swimming) can help, as it means there are days when the Achilles tendon is under less tension. Limit certain exercises - doing too much hill running, for example, can put excessive strain on the Achilles tendon. Wearing the correct shoes and replacing them when worn - making sure they support the arch and protect the heel will create less tension in the tendon. Using arch supports inside the shoe, if the shoe is in good condition but doesn't provide the required arch support this is a cheaper (and possibly more effective) alternative to replacing the shoe completely. Stretching, doing this before and after exercising helps to keep the Achilles tendon flexible, which means less chance of tendinitis developing. There is no harm in stretching every day (even on days of rest), as this will only further improve flexibility. Gradually increasing the intensity of a workout - Achilles tendinitis can occur when the tendon is suddenly put under too much strain, warming up and increasing the level of activity gradually gives your muscles time to loosen up and puts less pressure on the tendon.
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