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Achilles tendinitis is one of the most common injuries suffered by athletes and those who participate in regular, strenuous exercise activities. If you are currently suffering from Achilles tendinitis, or are concerned about injury risk to the Achilles tendon, you no doubt will be interested accurate information with regard to the following points:
• What exactly is the Achilles tendon?
• Why is it a common injury risk during sports or strenuous exercises?
• What is Achilles tendinitis?
• What is the time frame for complete recovery from Achilles tendonitis?
• How can physiotherapy promote healing of the Achilles tendon?
To learn the answers to the above-mentioned questions, please read on.
If you reach down to one of your feet and touch the top of your heel, you'll be able to trace the outline of your Achilles tendon as it stretches upwards toward your calf muscles. The Achilles tendon (also known as the calcaneal tendon) is a tough band of fibrous tissue that connects your heel bone to your calf muscles. It is the largest, as well as the strongest tendon in the body.
How does the Achilles tendon function? When your calf muscles flex in a certain direction, the Achilles tendon will push or pull on your heel. This is what allows you to stand on the tips of your toes or point your foot upwards, for example. This movement is very important for a number of physical activities that involve stretching, walking, running, or jumping.
The Achilles tendon contains a limited supply of blood flow. Additionally, because the Achilles tendon plays such a key role in a variety of physical movements, it is often subjected to great stress during strenuous activities. These factors make the tendon very susceptible to strains, tears, and other types of injuries.
Achilles tendon injuries are particularly common in activities that require participants to quickly speed up, slow down or pivot. Such activities could include:
Usually, Achilles tendon injuries occur as a result of a sudden physical movement, such as a runner that abruptly "explodes" from a stationary position to high speed. Injuries are more common as a result of pushing and lifting movements than impacts from landing. Males over the age of 30 are particularly susceptible to Achilles tendon injuries.
Additional risk factors for Achilles tendon injuries could include:
• Frequent use of high heels, which place increased pressure on the tendon
• "Flat feet," also known as fallen arches
• Certain types of medications, such as glucocorticoids
Achilles tendonitis is basically an inflammation of the tendon. It typically involves overuse of the tendon, especially with regard to repetitive motions in which high amounts of energy are stored and released with excessive compressive force.
Inflammation of the Achilles tendon can occur gradually, over the course of several weeks, or even months. However, clear symptoms of Achilles tendinitis often arise suddenly and can last as long as 6 weeks. Many experts view Achilles tendinitis as the first stage in a progression of painful conditions related to the Achilles tendon. This progression includes the following stages:
• Achilles tendinitis
• Achilles tendinosis
• Insertional Achilles tendinopathy
Doctors often describe this continuum of conditions related to the Achilles tendon as "tendinopathy." Whether a patient completely recovers from Achilles tendinitis or moves into the next phase of tendon deterioration depends to a large extent on how carefully he or she monitors the tendon's working load going forward.
The time frame for recovery from Achilles tendinitis depends on several factors, such as the level of your injury's severity, and how closely you follow your prescribed treatment plan. It could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months for your tendon to completely heal.
It's important that you refrain from rushing things during the recovery/treatment period. You should not attempt a return to your previous level of physical activity until the following conditions hold true:
• You're able to move both legs (the injured one as well as the uninjured) with equal freedom, strength and range of motion
• You don't have any pain in your injured leg when you perform physical movements, such as walking, jogging, jumping, etc.
In the meantime, there are several treatment factors that can promote a full and complete recovery, such as:
• Ice baths or ice massages (for 10 to 20 minutes at a time)
• Cross-friction massage
There are several ways that physiotherapy can help to treat Achilles tendonitis, promote a full recovery of strength and range of motion in the affected tissue, and provide holistic contributions to your body's health.
Gentle range of motion exercises performed periodically throughout the day can lay the groundwork for future flexibility and strength-building activities.
The formation of scar tissue around an Achilles tendon tear can cause stiffness. Flexibility exercises are an excellent way to gently tug at that scar tissue and help restore functionality.
By progressively strengthening your Achilles tendon, you're not only restoring its original functionality, but you're also working to prevent future injuries.
An injury to your Achilles tendon, coupled with a period of immobility, may cause an impairment in your balance and proprioception. Balance exercises help you to restore these attributes, which will, in turn, allow you to perform sports and other physical activities at a peak level once your tendon has completely healed.
Plyometrics are advanced exercises that should only be performed after your Achilles tendon has fully healed. These exercises can help your muscles return to peak conditioning for high-level sports and recreational activities.
Aerobic exercises can help to increase your aerobic capacity for future strenuous activity.
Whether you are a professional or a recreational athlete, if you are suffering from Achilles tendonitis, be sure to reach out to an experienced and reputable physiotherapist for more information on treatment options. Such consultation is the first step to proper, customized treatment, and complete recovery.