Insight Orthopedics & Sports Medicine – If you are an athlete, a runner, or are just physically active, one of the most common setbacks you are likely to experience at some point in your life is an Achilles tendon injury. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body and is an important connecting point in the leg, stretching from the base of the heel to the calf muscle. Every time you walk, run, jump, climb stairs, or stand on your toes, your Achilles tendon is hard at work. Yet because it is so widely used in sports and everyday activities, it also bears a lot of stress and is prone to injuries when overused.
Each year, about one million athletes will experience an Achilles tendon injury, including inflammation (tendinitis), tears, and ruptures. These injuries are very serious and require medical attention to prevent further damage to the tendon and surrounding tissue, as well as a prolonged recovery time. Because Achilles tendon injuries can happen over time or suddenly and pain intensity will vary for each person, it is important to understand the symptoms and know what to do if an injury occurs. Not only will this help you minimize the risk of further complications, but it will also help you make a full recovery and get back to the activities you love.
Here are eight common signs you have experienced an Achilles tendon injury.
Pain Near the Tendon
Pain near the back of the foot is the first indicator that an Achilles tendon injury has occurred. Pain will often be worse early in the morning and subside during the day. If the pain is minor, it is most likely tendinitis, which can be treated with compression, ice packs, and rest. However, if the pain is intense or intolerable, you have probably experienced a rupture and should see a doctor immediately.
Aches & Stiffness Near the Tendon
In addition to pain, aches and stiffness near the tendon is also common when an Achilles injury has occurred. Similarly, stiffness will be worse in the morning before gradually going away during the day as you start moving. If stiffness is severe and prohibits you from flexing or walking, it is likely that a serious injury such as a tendon rupture has occurred and you should visit a doctor immediately to prevent further complications.
Pain After Exercise
Achilles tendon discomfort and injuries are usually more pronounced following athletic activity or exercise. For people experiencing moderate pain, it is not uncommon to notice an improvement in discomfort while active, only for pain to return again after taking a break. In severe cases, any movement or physical activity will be extremely painful and is a sign you need to seek immediate medical attention.
When an Achilles tendon rupture occurs, patients often experience a sudden pop, crack, or snapping sound/sensation near the back of their heel, followed by sharp pain. This sensation may persist as you continue putting pressure on the tendon. If you experience this sensation, it is likely that a rupture has occurred and you should see a doctor as soon as possible to determine the extent of your injury.
Swelling Near the Leg
There are a number of reasons why swelling may occur near the leg, but one of the most common causes is an Achilles tendon injury or rupture. When a rupture occurs, the skin near the calf will be swollen, feel warm to the touch, and appear red or bruised. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor immediately. An orthopedic specialist will be able to confirm if a rupture has occurred and provide the necessary treatment to prevent further injuries.
After a severe Achilles tendon injury such as a rupture, it will be difficult to move the leg and the ankle will not be able to support the full weight of the body. When this occurs, it will be nearly impossible to do everyday tasks like walking or climbing stairs. In less severe injuries, including tendinitis and partial tears, the leg will be weak but still usable in most circumstances. In any case, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause of the injury and the best treatment plan so you can return to your favorite activities.
Pain When Touched
When an Achilles tendon injury or rupture has occurred, the ankle and leg area near the injury will be tender and sensitive to touch. You may also feel a painful bump or clicking in the area when gently squeezed. This is another sign that you should seek immediate medical attention to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment for your injury.
The Achilles tendon plays a critical role in moving our legs and feet when we walk or run, which is why it is prone to injury in even the most diligent athletes and active people. Whether you experience a minor injury like tendinitis or something more serious like a rupture, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of an injury and know when to seek medical attention. Insight Orthopedics & Sports Medicine specializes in Achilles injuries, including nonsurgical options that can help you rebuild your strength and flexibility and return to your favorite activities as soon as possible. Contact us today to learn more about our services and schedule an appointment.
Q: Can Achilles tendon injuries be treated without surgery?
A: Depending on the extent of your injury, your physician may recommend a number of nonsurgical treatments. Immobilization, ice, compression, elevation, medications, and physical therapy are all widely used if an Achilles injury is not severe.
Q: Should I go to the emergency room for an Achilles tendon injury?
A: A ruptured Achilles tendon is an emergency and may also require a consultation with a physician specializing in orthopedic surgery. A loud pop/snapping sensation near the heel, severe pain and swelling, and inability to stand or bend the foot are all signs of a rupture.
Q: Who is at highest risk for Achilles tendon injuries?
A: Achilles tendon injuries can happen to anyone, but they are most common in healthy, active men in their 20s and 30s. Achilles injuries are also more common in active older people. The sports most commonly associated with Achilles injuries include basketball, soccer, running, and tennis.