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Exercise

Achilles Tendonitis Plagues More Than Just Athletes


If you sometimes feel a burning pain above your heel with every step you take, you might have achilles tendonitis, a condition that plagues athletes and non-athletes alike.

Achilles tendonitis is caused by inflammation and degeneration of the achilles tendon, the large tendon located in the back of the leg and inserted into the heel. This tendon can be aggravated by activities that repeatedly stress the area, such as running, jumping or other pounding sports, or can be injured by a single traumatic event, according to Foot.com experts. Achilles tendonitis also can be caused by not stretching regularly before exercise or by wearing high heels that cause the tendon to shrink and become more vulnerable to injury.

In some cases a heel bone deformity or even long periods of standing can cause symptoms. The pain sometimes lessens during activity.

Symptoms of achilles tendonitis include a shooting or burning pain, or an extremely piercing pain, according to Dr. Suzanne Belyea, medical director of Foot.com.

"The pain will be in the area in the back of the heel, and can also be perceived as tenderness upon rising first thing in the morning or after sitting for an extended period of time," said Belyea. "If the condition is aggravated by a shoe rubbing against the tendon, you might see redness and feel soreness to the touch."

Several factors can contribute to the onset of achilles tendonitis, Belyea said. The most common is over-pronation, or flat feet, which occurs when the arch of the foot collapses upon bearing weight, putting stress on the achilles tendon. Improper shoe selection also can lead to the condition.

"Choosing your footwear is important if you are suffering from achilles tendonitis," Belyea said. "You want to look for a good, supportive athletic shoe that has an 'achilles notch' to reduce rubbing and irritation in the area."

Achilles tendonitis often is experienced by athletes, particularly distance runners. But it is difficult to treat in athletes because of their high level of activity and reluctance to stop or slow down their training, Foot.com experts said.

The condition should not be left untreated, however, because the tendon can become weaker and eventually rupture, causing a serious injury that is much more difficult to treat, according to Foot.com. Statistics show that men between the ages of 35 and 50 have an increased likelihood of rupturing the achilles tendon because they tend to be "weekend warriors," exercising on weekends without proper preparation or stretching on a regular basis.

Athletes, particularly runners, with achilles tendonitis should stretch carefully to warm up the muscles before exercise, said Belyea. They also should decrease the distance of their walk or run, apply ice after the activity and avoid any uphill climbs.

If over-pronation is the problem, a ready-made posted orthotic can be used to correct it, Foot.com notes. In many cases, a heel cup or heel cradle will help by elevating the heel to reduce stress and pressure on the achilles tendon. These devices should be made with light-weight, shock-absorbing materials, according to Foot.com.

If achilles tendonitis is treated properly and the correct orthotic is used for the specific biomechanical problem being experienced by the patient, relief should be possible in one to two weeks, Belyea said.


© 2001 Health Resources Publishing