Where’s the thickest, most powerful tendon in your body? Perhaps in your neck, to hold up your head? Good guess but look lower. At the back of your heel, you can feel the Achilles tendon, the largest, strongest tendon in the body. The Achilles tendon connects the muscles in your calf to the calcaneus or heel bone. It allows you to flex your ankle and point your toes downward. Without it, you couldn’t take steps, walk, or run.
The Achilles tendon is susceptible to two types of injuries:
- Inflammation, also called Achilles tendinitis, is caused by overuse and may include small tissue tears. You may have swelling in the back of the heel and pain that gradually gets worse. For tendonitis, we may recommend some combination of rest, anti-inflammatory medication, custom orthotics, stretching exercises, massaging of the calves or the tendon itself, icing, steroid injections, or prolotherapy.
- Rupture. The Achilles tendon can stretch too far and tear partially or completely from sudden stress – for example, when you break into a run. This tendon doesn’t have a great blood supply. The area that gets the least amount of blood, just above where the tendon inserts into the heel bone, is the part that tends to tear. When it happens, you may hear a loud popping noise followed by intense pain at the back of the ankle. Treatment for an Achilles tendon rupture can include immobilization with a boot or, more likely, surgery to sew the tendon back together.
Prevention is the best medicine
Achilles tendon injuries are common, especially in athletes and so-called “Weekend Warriors” – those who don’t exercise much Monday-Friday but go all out on Saturday or Sunday. Prevent Achilles injuries by avoiding sudden increases in your amount of exercise, getting enough rest between workouts, massaging your calf muscles to keep them from getting too tight, and wearing athletic shoes with proper heel support.
Most importantly, if you have symptoms of Achilles tendinitis, make an appointment with board-certified podiatrist Dr. Kenneth R. Wilhelm at Clifton Foot & Ankle Center. Without proper treatment, it could result in permanent tissue damage or a rupture. We welcome residents of Fairfax County and the northern Virginia area to our office in Centreville. Call (703) 996-3000 or make an appointment online.