DEFINITION: The largest tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon joins the back of the calf to the heel. Common among recreational athletes, Achilles tendonitis results when the Achilles tendon becomes irritated or inflamed. Individuals may even hear a popping sound to indicate that stress on the Achilles tendon has resulted in a tear or rupture. Middle-aged athletes are particularly susceptible to Achilles tendonitis, as tendons can become less flexible with age.
SYMPTOMS: Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include specific, localized pain directly behind the heel, or two to three inches above the heel. Individuals may feel more pain, not less, after reducing their physical activity. Pain may be most severe after sedentary activities, such as long periods of sitting or getting out of bed in the morning.
CAUSES: Achilles tendonitis may result from multiple factors, including over pronation (when the foot rolls inward with each step); lack of flexibility; weak calf muscles, or strength imbalances in the leg; wearing new footwear, which can affect an individualís walk or gait; and changes or increases in physical activity. Runners in particular may develop Achilles tendonitis upon increasing their distance or incorporating hill runs into their workout regime.
TREATMENTS: Over pronation can be reduced by wearing corrective footwear, which not only provides padding but also provides critical corrective support, keeping the foot steady and moving forward without rolling inward. Devices such as arch supports, heel wedges and heel cups can be used to help balance the foot, maintaining a strong and consistent gait. Resting the Achilles tendon is essential in reducing severe inflammation. If necessary, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, injections or surgery may help extreme cases of Achilles tendonitis.