The Achilles tendon is the longest and one of the strongest tendons in the body. It connects the two major calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the back of the heel. Tendons are thick, fibrous cords of connective tissue which connect muscles to bone. They facilitate movement of a bone or structure, in this case the Achilles tendon whose action is to plantarflex the ankle joint and help flex the knee joint. Under too much strain and stress, even the strongest tendon can become injured. Overuse can cause the tendon to become inflamed (Achilles tendinitis). As the injury progresses, collagen degeneration and scar formation can occur within the tendon. Not only does this reduce the flexibility of the tendon, thickening or lumps can be felt within the region of scar formation. If the unhealthy Achilles tendon continues to undergo overuse injury, it could rupture or tear.
Achilles tendinitis is typically not related to a specific traumatic incident, and results from repetitive stress to the tendon. This can be seen when individuals push their bodies too much too soon, but other factors can also contribute to the injury. These factors are:
Other factors such as obesity, age, and diabetes can also predispose an individual to sustaining an Achilles tendon injury. From a physiological perspective, the decreased vascularity around the Achilles tendon predisposes it to delayed healing compared to other tendons in the body. The Achilles tendon can receive a stress load of 4 times our body weight during walking… imagine the stress load when running and jumping! That is why Achilles injuries are most common in high-load, high-impact sports such as Basketball, Running, Track & Field.
Prevention of this injury includes wearing correct footwear for specific activities and lifestyle. Individuals participating in sports or exercise should warm up properly, stretch and cool down, and alternate training regimes where possible. Stretching is very important to injury prevention by maintaining optimal range of motion and increasing flexibility. Changing exercise routines slightly can make a big difference in avoiding an overuse injury such as Achilles tendinitis.
If you are susceptible to or have a history of posterior heel pain, then contact one of our podiatry clinics today. If this condition is recurrent and deteriorating, then you need to be mindful of preventing an eventual tendon tear or rupture. Podiatrists are lower limb specialists who will assess, diagnose and devise a treatment plan which will accelerate your recovery, optimise your sports performance, and most importantly get rid of the pain in your Achilles.
Author: Podiatrist Kerry SEAMAN
Editor: Principal Podiatrist Michael LAI