runner with achilles tendonitisThe largest tendon in the body is the Achilles tendon. It connects the calf muscles to the heel bone and can become inflamed if overused. When this happens, Achilles tendonitis can occur. This overuse injury is common among those who run or participate in sports or intense fitness programs. Most cases of Achilles tendonitis can be successfully treated through physical therapy and self-care measures.

Achilles Tendonitis Symptoms

Achilles tendonitis often causes pain along the back of the tendon near the heel of the foot. Some common symptoms that can occur as a result of Achilles tendonitis are:

  • Pain and stiffness while walking
  • Redness or burning
  • Tenderness in the heel area or Achilles tendon
  • Reduced flexibility in the ankle
  • Swelling in the back of the ankle
  • Calf tightness

Risk Factors and Common Causes of Achilles Tendonitis

There are a number of factors that can put you at risk for Achilles tendonitis. For example, those who run or participate in high-impact sports or fitness programs are at risk for developing Achilles tendonitis since it is a condition caused by overuse. As you age, you are more at risk for this condition as well. Having flat feet can put more strain on your Achilles tendon and also put you at risk for Achilles tendonitis. Men are more likely to develop this condition than women, but it can happen to both.

There are a variety of causes for Achilles tendonitis, including factors such as the following:

  • Wearing shoes that do not fit properly or that are too stiff while running or playing sports
  • Tight, weak, or injured calf muscle
  • Running on hard or uneven surfaces
  • Sudden change in fitness routine
  • Not warming up or stretching the calves before exercising
  • Excessive running or physical activity
  • An abnormality in the structure of the foot
  • Being overweight

Diagnosing Achilles Tendonitis

A physical therapist can diagnose Achilles tendonitis. To diagnose the condition, the therapist will review your medical history and conduct a physical exam of your calf, heel, and ankle. They may do the following to determine how you developed Achilles tendonitis:

  • Check the positioning of your feet
  • Check for strength and flexibility
  • Evaluate your range of motion
  • Check the reflexes of your feet and ankles
  • Ask you to stand, walk, step on stairs, or raise your heels
  • Ask about your activity level and any factors that could contribute to your condition

Physical Therapy Treatment Options

There are a variety of physical therapy options that can be used to help treat Achilles tendonitis. Treatment will depend on your specific condition and needs. The goal of treatment is to regain strength and help heal the tendon while minimizing any pain. For mild cases of Achilles tendonitis, over-the-counter pain medication along with rest and ice may help reduce the pain and inflammation. If this does not help with the pain, the following may be recommended:

  • Strengthening exercises
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Deep massage to increase blood circulation in the legs and flexibility
  • Ultrasound heat therapy

In more severe cases of Achilles tendonitis where the tendon has ruptured or torn, surgery may be needed to correct the problem.

How to Prevent Achilles Tendonitis

There are several things you can do to prevent Achilles tendonitis from reoccurring. These include:

  • Do exercises that strengthen your feet and calves
  • Stretch your calves before exercising
  • Do daily stretches to maintain and improve your flexibility
  • Work on improving your running form
  • Wear shoes with proper support and discard any shoes that are worn out
  • Use orthotics in your shoes that keep your feet in proper position and elevate your heel to keep the strain off your Achilles tendon
  • Do not over-train and ease into any fitness program
  • Alternate high-impact activities with lower-impact activities

Contact an Oregon Physical Therapist

If you have injured your Achilles tendon and need physical therapy, contact our clinic in Portland, Oregon. Creekside Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation provides treatments for Achilles tendonitis and can create a custom treatment plan based on current best practice interventions. To set up an appointment with one of our specialists and get on the path to recovery, complete our contact form or call us at 503-245-5710.

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