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Achilles tendon injury

An Achilles tendon injury is a fairly common and painful sports injury. It can also be caused by wearing high heels.

The Achilles tendon links calf muscles to the heel bone.

Running regularly can cause wear and tear of the Achilles tendon, causing pain and swelling.

Achilles tendon injury may be helped with self-care at home, or may need medical attention from a GP, physiotherapist, or surgeon.

What can cause Achilles tendon injuries?

An Achilles tendon injury might be caused by:

  • Overuse
  • Increasing your level of physical activity too quickly
  • Not warming up enough before exercise
  • Wearing high heels, which increase the stress on the tendon
  • Problems with the feet. An Achilles tendon injury can result from flat feet, also known as fallen arches or over-pronation. In this condition, the impact of a step causes the arch of your foot to collapse, stretching the muscles and tendons
  • Muscles or tendons in the leg that are too tight

Achilles tendon injuries are common in sports like:

  • Running
  • Gymnastics
  • Dancing
  • Football and rugby
  • Netball
  • Tennis

You're more likely to tear an Achilles tendon when you start moving suddenly. For instance, a sprinter might get one at the start of a race. The abrupt tensing of the muscle can be too much for the tendon to handle. Men over 30 are particularly prone to Achilles tendon injuries.

What does an Achilles tendon injury feel like?

Symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury are:

  • Pain along the back of your foot and above your heel, especially when stretching your ankle or standing on your toes. Pain may be mild and worsen gradually, in cases of tendonitis. Or the pain can be abrupt and severe if the tendon has ruptured, causing immediate incapacity
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Hearing a snapping, popping noise during the injury
  • Difficulty flexing your foot or pointing your toes (in partial or complete tears of the tendon)

To diagnose an Achilles tendon injury your doctor will want to do a thorough physical examination. He or she may want to see you try to walk or run to look for problems that might have contributed to the injury.

What's the treatment for an Achilles tendon injury?

As debilitating as they can be, the good news is that minor-to-moderate Achilles tendon injuries should heal on their own. You just need to give them time. If the injury is not too severe, your doctor will prescribe medication to relieve pain and inflammation, and may refer you to a physiotherapist.

Self-care for an Achilles tendon injury often involves PRICE therapy: protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.

  • Protect the Achilles tendon from further injury.
  • Rest your leg. Avoid putting weight on your leg. You may need crutches.
  • Ice your leg to reduce pain and swelling. Experts recommend doing this for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days, or until the pain is gone.
  • Compress your leg. Use an elastic bandage around the lower leg and ankle to keep down swelling.
  • Elevate your leg on a pillow when you're sitting or lying down.
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