The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body. It is located at the back of the ankle joint and can be felt as a large, cord-like structure attaching to the back of the foot. Since tendons serve to attach muscles to bone, the Achilles tendon also attaches the large calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus, to the back of the heel bone, the calcaneus.
The muscle mass and strength of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are greater than all of the other muscles of the lower leg combined. Therefore, the pull of these muscles on the Achilles tendon is very large since these muscles help balance the body while standing, push the body forward during walking, spring the body forward during running, and spring the body upward during jumping. Because of the large amount of stress which the Achilles tendon is subjected to during running and jumping activities, the Achilles tendon is prone to injury.
The most common form of injury to the Achilles tendon is called Achilles tendonitis. This is an inflammatory condition causing pain in the Achilles tendon. Achilles tendonitis generally occurs in people who are active in sports activities. Types of sports that commonly are associated with Achilles tendonitis are basketball, tennis, running, football, soccer, volleyball and other running and jumping sports.
Achilles tendonitis tends to occur more frequently in older athletes than in younger athletes. As a person ages into their thirties and especially into their forties and fifties, the ligaments and tendons of the body tend to lose some of their stretchiness and are not as strong as before. This predisposes older individuals who are active in running and jumping activities, to tendon injuries such as Achilles tendinitis. However, Achilles tendonitis can also occur in teenagers who are very active in running and jumping sports.
Achilles tendonitis generally responds very well to conservative treatment as long as it is diagnosed and treated early. Surgery is rarely indicated unless the Achilles tendonitis is particularly severe and chronic, or if the tendon has ruptured completely.
Treatment of Achilles tendonitis is based on the length of time the patient has had the injury. Treatment consists of active release manual therapy, dry needling, heat therapy and a modified low dye taping technique that restricts the movement of the plantar fascia. In cases where the patients pain has reduced significantly but has not completely gone, custom made orthoses may be prescribe to help correct any biomechanical discrepancies.