The Achilles tendon has a well-earned reputation for strength and toughness. Responsible for connecting the powerful calf muscles to the heel bone, the Achilles is an important link in the chain of muscles and joints that allow you to push off, run, jump, and move efficiently.

Yet despite being the thickest tendon in your entire body (of the 4,000 or so you possess), the Achilles is still vulnerable to damage. Stiffness, pain, inflammation, degeneration, and even ruptures can slow you down or even bring you to a crashing halt. Fortunately, the Northwest Extremity Specialists can help.Doctor holding the Achilles tendon of a patient

Common Achilles Tendon Injuries

The most frequent sources of Achilles pain include:

  • Achilles tendinitis. This refers to short-term inflammation of the tendon, which can cause aching, tenderness, and swelling. Pain occurs during and after activity, and the tendon may feel very stiff the following day.
  • Achilles tendinosis. Chronic Achilles tendinitis may develop into Achilles tendinosis. In this condition, the tendon fibers begin to break down at the cellular level. Microscopic tears may form in the tissue. Tendon strength is reduced, making it more likely to rupture.
  • Achilles tendon rupture. Here, the tendon has been torn partially or completely. Ruptures tend to produce immediate, intense pain—almost like getting kicked or stabbed. You may be unable to put any weight on your feet at all, or at the very least walking will be incredibly difficult and painful.

What Causes Achilles Tendon Injuries?

Several underlying causes and risk factors are associated with Achilles tendon injuries. Some of the most common include:

  • Poor footwear. Shoes don’t fit or don’t provide the correct support, cushioning, or other features required for your sport.
  • Overuse. Occupations, sports, or hobbies that require you to remain standing and/or do a lot of running and jumping may strain the tendon over time.
  • Sudden activity increases. If you’re a “weekend warrior,” or you’ve decided to suddenly change sports or significantly increase your mileage, you are at higher risk of injury.
  • Tight calf muscles. These put greater strain on the tendon.
  • Foot structure. Flat feet, high arches, and other foot deformities can also increase strain.
  • Age. While age isn’t a “cause” of Achilles tendon injury, the tendons do tend to lose flexibility and strength with age, making them more susceptible to injury.

Treatment for Achilles Tendon Injuries

For cases of tendinitis or tendinosis, we generally recommend conservative treatment options first. In a simple flare-up of tendinitis, you may be able to treat the condition adequately at home through rest, ice, stretching exercises, and if necessary a new pair of shoes.

Tougher pain that has become chronic may require more aggressive intervention. At Northwest Extremity Specialists, our doctors employ multiple advanced (but still conservative) remedies such as shockwave therapy. These therapies harness your body’s own repair mechanisms and have proven themselves extremely effective at treating tendon inflammation and degeneration.

Tendon ruptures may be treated through casting and immobilization, or by surgical repair. There are strengths and weaknesses to each approach, with surgery tending to have a faster recovery and less risk of recurrence, but also a higher risk of other complications. Our experts will review all your options with you in detail before making a recommendation and scheduling the appropriate procedure.

If your Achilles tendon is swollen, painful, or giving you any problems whatsoever, please schedule an appointment with the Northwest Extremity Specialists. Fill out our contact form online, or contact the Portland-area office closest to you today.