Running is one of the best forms of exercise; but runners who run long distances are susceptible to a condition called Achilles tendinopathy – a painful condition that makes it difficult to run or even go up and down the stairs without discomfort. The large Achilles tendon that extends from the heel to the muscles of the calf undergoes a great deal of stress during the repetitive leg movements associated with running – and it isn’t surprising that they can become injured.
What Causes Achilles Tendinopathy?
Achilles tendinopathy was once believed to be an inflammatory condition, but it’s now thought to be more of a degenerative type injury that comes from overuse. Runners usually develop this problem when they try to run too far too quickly or when they undergo a sudden change in their routine such as running up hills or doing fast sprints. Achilles tendinopathy is also more common in people who roll their foot when they run – a condition known as overpronation. Running in a shoe that doesn’t fit properly or doesn’t provide proper support can also contribute to problems with the Achille’s tendon.
What are the Symptoms of Achilles Tendinopathy?
The cardinal symptom of Achilles tendinopathy is pain and stiffness along the lower portion of the calf and the back of the heel which gradually worsens. Initially the pain may be mild and intermittent, but it usually becomes constant after a while. There may also be tenderness when pressing on the lower portion of the calf muscle or heel.
Achilles Tendinopathy Treatment
The most important treatment for Achilles tendinopathy is rest. If the Achilles tendon continues to be stressed by activity, there’s the risk that it will rupture. It’s best to switch over to a non-weight bearing exercise such as swimming until healing occurs. Anti-inflammatory medications may be needed to relieve the pain.
Achilles Tendinopathy Treatment: Should You Get a Steroid Injection?
Because treatment for Achilles tendinopathy is limited and healing can be slow, some runners opt for a steroid injection into the tendon to reduce the pain. A steroid injection for Achilles tendinopathy isn’t a good idea. Not only do studies show that it doesn’t work, but it can increase the risk of tendon rupture which often necessitates surgery to repair.
Other Treatment for Achille’s Tendinopathy
A better option for Achilles tendon injuries that are slow to heal is to do eccentric muscle exercises under the care of a physical therapist. These are exercises that combine stretching and muscle contraction. Stretching exercises, ultrasound, and, in some cases, immobilizing the calf for a short period may also be helpful. Ice can be used to decrease pain and swelling. These are all safer options than a steroid injection.
Treatment for Achilles Tendinopathy: The Bottom Line
Don’t be tempted to use the short-term fix of a steroid injection to treat Achilles tendinopathy. It could lead to a ruptured tendon that requires surgery. Stick with more conservative therapies such as stretching and eccentric exercises – and add a dose of patience. Achilles tendinopathy can be slow to heal.