Achilles Tendon Problems

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What is the Achilles tendon?

The Achilles tendon (also called the heel cord) attaches the heel bone to the patient’s calf muscles. Unfortunately, it is easily injured. If an injury leads to inflammation and swelling, it is called Achilles tendonitis. Worst-case scenario: It may tear or rupture.

What are the symptoms of Achilles tendon problems?

The foot and ankle orthopedic surgeons at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) examine a patient to see if the back of the leg is tender, swollen or stiff. They ask patients whether pain in the back of the leg is persistent and worsens. This is tendonitis.

If the tendon ruptures, it feels like being shot in the back of the leg. The patient may hear a "snap" during the rupture.

Who is likely to get Achilles tendon problems?

Achilles tendon problems are common among athletes who tend to overuse this tendon, like runners, gymnasts, dancers, and baseball and football players. Failing to stretch before exercising can contribute to Achilles problems.

Achilles tendonitis is more likely among women who wear high heels often. This can lead to shortened tendons, which hurt when wearing flat shoes or going barefoot.

What causes Achilles tendon problems?

The patient can injure an Achilles tendon by overusing it during exercise or by regularly wearing high heels, which increases stress on the tendon.

Some children are born with too-short Achilles tendons. When they learn to walk, they walk on their tiptoes.

How are Achilles tendon problems diagnosed?

The MOR orthopedic surgeons examine the calf and the patient’s gait. They might order an X-ray, CT scan or MRI.

What are the treatments for Achilles tendon problems?

Usually, Achilles tendon problems resolve without surgery, but the patient may be off his feet for a while.

Non-surgical Treatment Options

The foot and ankle doctor may tell the patient to:

  • Strengthen and exercise the Achilles tendon through physical therapy
  • Rest and elevate the leg
  • Use ice to reduce inflammation
  • Wear a compression bandage to reduce swelling
  • Use topical medications
  • Reduce inflammation with anti-inflammatory painkillers
  • Wear a night brace to hold the leg in a stretched position

Surgical Treatment Options

If the Achilles tendon ruptures, the physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush may perform surgery to repair it, although surgery is not always necessary. After surgery, the patient wears a cast and use crutches for two to four weeks, then an immobilizing boot for about eight weeks.