Achilles Tendon: What is it, Types and Complications

Achilles Tendon is the most important tendon required to walk and jump. Read on for ways to repair a ruptured Achilles Tendon.

The Achilles Tendon is the most crucial tendon that is required for any kind of movement. It is a band of tissue, that is fibrous in nature, and it links the muscles of your calf to your heel. There are various ways to help heal a ruptured Achilles Tendon, besides surgery. Changing your activities, or wearing a walking cast, as well as icing, can help with the pain.

Health Shots got in touch with physiotherapist and a sports rehabilitation specialist Dr Sourabh Sane to understand the causes of Achilles Tendon and how to rectify it.

What is Achilles Tendon?

The Achilles tendon, named after the Greek warrior Achilles whose only weakness was his heel, is the thickest tendon in the human body. “It runs down the back of your lower leg, connecting your calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to your heel bone (calcaneus),” says Dr Sane. This mighty tendon is crucial for pushing off the ground when you walk, run, and jump.

What causes pain in Achilles Tendon

Achilles tendon pain can be a real heel- stopper, and there are a few culprits, explains Dr Sane.

1. Overuse

Repetitive activities that strain the tendon, like running, jumping sports, or suddenly increasing your workout intensity, can lead to tiny tears and inflammation.

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A woman looking at her ankle.
Runners and athletes are more likely to get Achilles Tendon pain. Image courtesy: Freepik

2. Tight calf muscles

Inflexible calf muscles put extra stress on the Achilles tendon, making it more prone to injury.

3. Poor footwear

Unsupportive shoes can cause abnormal foot motion, stressing the tendon.

4. Age

As we age, the Achilles tendon loses some of its elasticity, making it more susceptible to tears.

5. Certain medications

Some medications, like corticosteroids, can weaken tendons.

Also Read: Why does my heel pain? Know common causes and treatment

Types of Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis is the most common cause of Achilles tendon pain. “It’s essentially an inflammation of the tendon due to overuse or microtears,” says Dr Sane.

There are two main types of Achilles tendinitis:
• Non-insertional: This occurs in the middle portion of the tendon.
• Insertional: This inflammation happens where the tendon attaches to the heel bone.

Who is most likely to get Achilles Tendon problems?

Some people are more at risk for Achilles tendon woes than others. These include:

1. Athletes

Runners, jumpers, and dancers who participate in intense training are more prone to overuse injuries.

2. Weekend warriors

People who suddenly increase their activity level after periods of inactivity are more susceptible.

3. Men

Men are more likely to experience Achilles tendon ruptures than women. A study, published in HHS Public Access, 84 per cent of the ruptures happen in men.

4. Overweight individuals

Extra weight puts more stress on the Achilles tendon. In fact, losing weight can help relieve you of the pain as well.

Also Read: Runners, here’s how you can avoid shin splints!

5. People with flat feet or tight calf muscles

These anatomical factors can alter how the tendon is stressed.

Signs you have Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis often announces itself with these symptoms:

• Pain and tenderness in the back of your heel, especially in the morning or after activity.
• Stiffness in the ankle, particularly when you first get moving.
• Swelling around the tendon.
• Difficulty pushing off the ground when walking or running.

Diagnosis and treatment of Achilles Tendon pain

If you suspect Achilles tendinitis, see a doctor. Diagnosis usually involves a physical exam and possibly imaging tests like X-rays or ultrasounds. Treatment typically involves:

1. Rest

Reducing or stopping activities that aggravate the pain is key for healing. Rehabilitation after a rupture can take about six months. One must refrain from taking up high energy activities.

A woman resting
Ample rest can help relieve the pain of Achilles Tendon. Image courtesy: Freepik

2. Ice

Wrap a gel pack or bag of frozen peas in a thin towel and apply it to the painful area for 15-20 minutes at a time. Repeat this a few times throughout the day to reduce inflammation and ease pain.

3. Anti-inflammatory medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage pain and inflammation. Moreover, rest can also help with inflammation.

4. Physical therapy

Stretching and strengthening exercises can improve flexibility and strength in the calf muscles, reducing stress on the tendon.

5. Orthotics

Supportive shoe inserts can help improve foot mechanics and reduce stress on the Achilles.

In severe cases, surgery might be an option to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.