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Weekend Warriors: Beware Achilles Tendonitis

by on November 03, 2018 5:00 AM

Are you a runner, an after-work softball star, or a weekend warrior who loves to push yourself to the limit? If you’ve been noticing pain along the back of your leg and near your heel, it may be a sign of Achilles tendonitis or inflammation in the body’s largest tendon.

Achilles tendonitis is an extremely common condition. More than 200,000 new cases are reported each year.

The pain can go away after a few days’ rest, but if it persists and you begin to notice tenderness or stiffness in the morning, it might be time to check with your doctor.

On your way to that check-up, here’s what might have caused the condition and what you can do to treat it.

What puts you at risk

The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to your heel bone, enabling you to walk, run, jump, and walk on your toes. Achilles tendonitis inflammation comes from repetitive movements or excessive strain, similar to forms of tendonitis that appear elsewhere in the body.

“Weekend warriors and those who decide to take up a new training regimen without easing into it are especially at risk for Achilles tendonitis. If the tendon isn’t strong or flexible enough for the activity you’ve chosen, it will flare up.

In addition to lifestyle factors, men are more prone to the condition than women. It also becomes more common as you age.

If you have a history of Achilles tendonitis and want to prevent a flare-up, it’s important to stretch often, especially before or after a workout. If you’re beginning a new sport or activity, remember to ease into it and increase intensity gradually. Maintaining a varied workout will also help you to not put too much strain on the tendon.

Potential treatment options

In most cases, improving your workout habits will relieve symptoms of Achilles tendonitis. Trying different exercises throughout the week, leaving time for cross-training and resting tired muscles can help you avoid inflammation and pain.

If you’re looking for an at-home fix, try icing your heel, wearing compression socks, or elevating your foot after an intense workout or game to reduce inflammation.

However, if pain continues or worsens, you may want to see your doctor.

Most doctors will recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, for tendonitis, but may consider prescription medications or physical therapy if the inflammation is severe.

If your doctor does recommend physical therapy, you can expect to do exercises focusing on strengthening the foot, leg, and calf. These will ensure that joints and muscles around the Achilles tendon are providing enough support and reducing strain. Regular guided stretching will also improve the flexibility and elasticity of the muscle, making it less prone to inflammation.

A physical therapist may also recommend orthotic solutions like heel wedges or specialized shoes.

In the unlikely event that your pain continues to be severe and resistant to non-surgical treatment, your doctor may recommend an MRI and eventual surgery to repair the tendon.

Dr. Aaron Dawes is a Geisinger fellowship-trained family and sports medicine physician.

 

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