Treat Achilles Tendinitis Naturally
Achilles tendinitis is a condition that causes pain along the back of the leg, concentrated near the heel. The Achilles tendon has its point of attachment at the posterior aspect of the heel.
As the largest tendon in the body, the Achilles tendon connects the posterior calf muscle to the heel bone – which makes it integral to balance and posture. The tendon transmits force/power from the hips and legs to the foot. Due to how often it is used the tendon is prone to tendinitis and/or tendinosis.
Noninsertional Achilles Tendinitis: In this form of tendinitis the fibers in the middle portion of the Achilles tendon have begun to degenerate, thicken and swell. This typically affects young active people, but anyone may have this problem. The area above the bony insertion becomes very thick and painful. Often a lump forms on the tendon and can be very painful.
Insertional Achilles Tendinitis: This form of tendinitis affects the upper portion of the heel where the tendon attaches to the foot. In many cases bone spurs form within the tendon itself with this type of tendinitis. Insertional Achilles Tendinitis can affect most people at any time, even if they aren’t active. It may be genetic or age-related. This condition often occurs in conjunction with a “pump bump,” which is a bone deformity on the upper portion of the back of the heel bone.
Achilles Tendinitis typically occurs from repetitive stress to the tendon. Whenever we overload our body’s ability to heal itself from normal daily trauma or increase the intensity of exercise to soon we’re more likely to develop tendinitis. Other influences can lead to tendinitis as well:
- Rapid increases to the intensity or frequency of activity
- Having tight calf muscles and implementing a rigorous workout program
- Bone spurs, which can rub against the tendon
- Change in foot wear
- Medical conditions or autoimmue disorders
- Immobilization and deconditioning
Nonsurgical treatment will often help sufferers with pain relief. The pain may continue for 3 to 6 months before treatment methods can be effective. Rest can be the first step in reducing pain.
Low-impact activities can make the pain less intense and allow athletes to maintain their exercise programs. Sometimes all that is required to relieve pain and stress to the tendon is a 1-2 centimeter heel lift in the shoe, which takes enough force off the tendon insertion to reduce pain. Open back shoes or structural flip-flops help.
A physician or trainer should guide you as you begin to increase movement of the Achilles through walking or other gentle exercises.
Placing ice on the most painful area of the tendon for 20 minutes at a time can be helpful in easing pain. Ibuprofen, Naproxen and other drugs can also reduce pain and swelling. There are also a number of exercises and stretches that can ease pain.
The most common treatment for this condition, and often one of the most effective methods of treatment, is physical therapy. There are very specialized treatment protocols for this common condition that work very well. This treatment will vary from dry needling and massage to eccentric loading routines (otherwise known as Alfredson’s protocol).
Patients should only consider surgery if pain persists after an adequate course of nonsurgical treatment methods. The type of surgery a doctor will recommend depends on where the tendinitis is concentrated and how bad the damage is. Also, the post-operative recovery and therapy protocol varies among surgeons – so it is important to seek out second opinions if it does come to that point.
If you have heel pain and aren’t sure if it’s necessarily Achilles Tendinitis, click here to read our blog on how to naturally treat other forms of heel pain!
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For more information about Achilles Tendinitis visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Dr. Meredith Warner is the creator of Well Theory and The Healing Sole. She is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Air Force Veteran.
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