What is Achilles tendonitis?
- Excessive exercise or walking commonly causes Achilles tendonitis, especially for athletes.
- Symptoms include pain or swelling in the back of your heel.
- The RICE method is a common, effective form of treatment for mild cases.
The Achilles tendon attaches your calf muscles to your heel bone, or calcaneus. You use this tendon to jump, walk, run, and stand on the balls of your feet. Continuous, intense physical activity, such as running and jumping, can cause painful inflammation of the Achilles tendon, known as Achilles tendonitis (or tendinitis).
Simple home treatments can help Achilles tendonitis. However, if home treatment doesn’t work, it’s important to see a doctor. If your tendonitis gets worse, your tendon can tear. You may need medication or surgery to ease the pain.
Causes of Achilles tendonitis
Excessive exercise or walking commonly causes Achilles tendonitis, especially for athletes. However, factors unrelated to exercise may also contribute to your risk. Rheumatoid arthritis and infection are both linked to tendonitis.
Any repeated activity that strains the Achilles tendon can potentially cause tendonitis. Some causes include:
- exercising without a proper warmup
- straining the calf muscles during repeated exercise or physical activity
- playing sports, such as tennis, that require quick stops and changes of direction
- wearing old or poorly fitting shoes
- wearing high heels daily or for prolonged durations
Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis
- discomfort or swelling in the back of your heel
- tight calf muscles
- limited range of motion when flexing the foot
- skin on your heel is overly warm to the touch
The main symptom of Achilles tendonitis is pain and swelling in the back side of your heel when you walk or run. Other symptoms include tight calf muscles and limited range of motion when you flex your foot. This condition can also make the skin on your heel feel overly warm to the touch.
Treating Achilles tendonitis
Many treatments are available for Achilles tendonitis, ranging from rest and ibuprofen (Advil) to steroid injections and surgery. Your doctor might suggest:
- reducing your physical activity
- very gentle stretching and later strengthening of the calf muscles
- switching to a different, less strenuous sport
- icing the area after exercise or when in pain
- elevating your foot to decrease any swelling
- wearing a brace or walking boot to prevent heel movement
- going to physical therapy
- taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, for a limited time
- wearing a shoe with a built-up heel to take tension off the Achilles tendon
The rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) method is usually effective in treating your Achilles tendonitis right after you’re injured. This method works in the following way:
- Rest: Don’t put pressure or weight on your tendon for one to two days until you can walk on the tendon without pain. The tendon usually heals faster if no additional strain is placed on it during this time. Your doctor may suggest that you use crutches if you need to go long distances while resting your tendon.
- Ice: Put ice in a bag, wrap the bag in a cloth material, and place the wrapped bag of ice against your skin. Hold the bag on the tendon for 15 to 20 minutes, then take the bag off to let the tendon warm up again. The ice usually makes inflammation or swelling go down faster.
- Compression: Place a bandage, athletic tape, or tie an article of clothing around the tendon to compress the injury. This keeps the tendon from swelling too much. But don’t wrap or tie anything too tightly around the tendon, as it can limit blood flow.
- Elevation: Raise your foot above the level of your chest. Because your foot is higher than your heart, blood returns to the heart and keeps the swelling down. This is easiest to do by lying down and putting your foot on a pillow or other raised surface.