Elbow Issues

Achilles Tendon Problems

Causes
It’s not entirely clear why these problems develop in some people but not in others. Changes in the normal alignment of the foot and leg may be part of the problem. Anyone with one leg shorter than the other is at increased risk of Achilles tendon problems.

For the athlete, sudden increases in training may be a key factor. Runners may add on miles or engage in excessive hill training while other athletes increase training intensity. Other risk factors include obesity, diabetes (or other endocrine disorders), aging, exposure to steroids, and taking fluoroquinolones (anti-biotics).

Problems with the Achilles tendon seem to occur in different ways. Initially, irritation of the outer covering of the tendon, called the paratenon, causes paratendonitis. Paratendonitis is simply inflammation around the tendon. Inflammation of the tendocalcaneal bursa (described above) may also be present with paratendonitis. Either of these conditions may be due to repeated overuse or ill-fitting shoes that rub on the tendon or bursa.

As we age, our tendons can degenerate. Degeneration means that wear and tear occurs in the tendon over-time and leads to a situation where the tendon is weaker than normal. Degeneration in a tendon usually shows up as a loss of the normal arrangement of the fibers of the tendon. Tendons are made up of strands of a material called collagen. (Think of a tendon as similar to a nylon rope and the strands of collagen as the nylon strands.) Some of the individual strands of the tendon become jumbled due to the degeneration, other fibers break, and the tendon loses strength.

The healing process in the tendon causes the tendon to become thickened as scar tissue tries to repair the tendon. This process can continue to the extent that a nodule forms within the tendon. This degenerative condition without inflammation is called tendonosis. The area of tendonosis in the tendon is weaker than normal tendon. Tiny tears in the tissue around the tendon occur with overuse. The weakened, degenerative tendon sets the stage for the possibility of actual rupture of the Achilles tendon.

Symptoms
Tendocalcaneal bursitis usually begins with pain and irritation at the back of the heel. There may be visible redness and swelling in the area. The back of the shoe may further irritate the condition, making it difficult to tolerate shoe wear.

Achilles tendonitis usually occurs further up the leg, just above the heel bone itself. The Achilles tendon in this area may be noticeably thickened and tender to the touch. Pain is present with walking, especially when pushing off on the toes.

An Achilles tendon rupture is usually an unmistakable event. Some bystanders may report actually hearing the snap, and the victim of a rupture usually describes a sensation similar to being violently kicked in the calf. Following rupture the calf may swell, and the injured person usually can’t rise on his toes.