What are Achilles tendon injuries?

The Achilles tendon is often injured during a period of sudden high stress. For example, the Achilles can tear when an athlete sprints or if a person falls from a height and lands on the feet. It can also be injured when the calf muscle is not as strong or flexible as it needs to be to do a certain activity, and the Achilles bears too much of the strain. For example, the Achilles tendon can become irritated or torn if you are not conditioned for physical activity but do weekend chores or leisure activities that require leg strength and flexibility. The most common problems with the Achilles tendon are as follows:
  • Achilles tendinitis

    Tendinitis (ten-duh-NY-tis) happens when a tendon becomes irritated and inflamed from overuse. The overuse can be from repeating a certain activity (like jumping or sprinting) or from doing too much activity too soon, without allowing enough time to build up your strength and flexibility. Achilles tendinitis causes soreness in the back of the heel. It’s usually temporary and gets better with rest and treatment. But if the Achilles tendon is regularly irritated and inflamed, the tendon will start to break down. This makes it vulnerable to tears and ruptures.

  • Torn Achilles tendon

    The Achilles tendon can tear when it’s weakened by tendinitis or has sudden stress on it, or both. The tendon can have a partial tear or tear completely.

Symptoms for Achilles Tendonitis

Soreness & Stiffness

The back of the heel may be sore and stiff, especially first thing in the morning or after an activity like running or walking. It may also feel sore when you try to stand on your toes.

Swelling

You may notice some thickening or swelling on the back of your heel. The swelling may get worse throughout the day, especially if you are doing a lot of walking or other activity.

Symptoms for Achilles Tendon Tear or Rupture

Pain

The moment of injury can be quite painful, and the injured area can be sore for a while until the injury heals. The pain may feel like a severe bruise as if you’ve been hit in the calf. Pain usually gets worse when you try to use the foot or put weight on it.

Swelling, Redness, & Warmth

The area behind the heel is often swollen and red right after it is injured, and may also be warm to the touch. It may also swell in the days after the injury, getting worse as the day goes on.

Weakness

You may have trouble flexing your foot and walking. If a tear is bad enough, you may not be able to stand on your toes or push off your toes to walk.

When to See a Doctor

See a doctor if you think you have injured your Achilles tendon. Tendons heal best when you get the right treatment as soon as possible after the injury. Resting and treating Achilles tendinitis helps to prevent more serious injury.

Causes

Overuse

Athletes like runners put a lot of regular stress on the Achilles tendon and are at risk for tendinitis.

Too Much Activity Too Soon

The Achilles tendon can become inflamed or torn when you don’t regularly work out the legs.

Falls

Falling from a high place and landing on your feet, or stepping into a hole, can cause a tear in your Achilles tendon.

Sudden Stress

Common cause in athletes. Example: football players are at risk because they push off their toes for sudden sprints as a play begins.

Bone Spurs

A bone spur is extra bone growth on the heel. Bone spurs can rub against the Achilles and cause irritation.

Diagnosis, Tests & Treatments

Diagnosis & Tests

  • Your healthcare provider will ask about your injury, where the pain is, and when it hurts most. Your healthcare provider will look at the shape of your foot and may ask you to move it in certain ways.
  • Imaging tests, such as an x-ray, may be recommended to look for a heel spur or hardening (calcification) of the tendon.
  • An MRI may be recommended to examine the Achilles tendon for tears.