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Achilles Paratendinopathy Explained

Anatomy of achilles tendon Achilles Paratendinopathy is a common cause of Achilles pain, although lower Calf and heel pain is often reported with this condition. Achilles Paratendinopathy is commonly referred to as Achilles Tendonitis. The Achilles Tendon is situated above the heel and forms the lower part of the calf muscles. It is a continuation of the Gastrocnemius and Soleus muscles and attaches to the heel bone. It is the strongest tendon in the human body and its function is to transmit the force of the muscles to produce the push off during walking and running. The Achilles Tendon is surrounded by a fibrous sheath or 'paratendon', which is the structure affected by Achilles Paratendinopathy. Of all Achilles region pain it has been estimated that 50 - 60% is caused by Achilles Paratendinopathy.

Achilles Paratendinopathy is characterised by inflammation of the Paratendon. It can be due to a number of causes, but direct trauma can be implicated in this condition. The other major cause of inflammation of the Achilles Paratendon is training error. A sudden increase in training intensity, duration or frequency can overload the tendon and cause an inflammatory response within the sheath. Achilles Tendonitis or Achilles Paratendinopathy is common in middle distance and long distance runners, as well as those involved in contact sports, particularly soccer.

Other errors include running on hard or uneven surfaces and wearing incorrect or inadequate footwear. These may be exacerbated by biomechanical factors. The Achilles Tendon does not attach to the heel bone in a straight line but spirals downwards - this is to generate more muscle force. If the person has flat feet the tendon whips round and the tendon sheath tends to get inflamed on the inside, or medial, aspect. Other biomechanical problems can cause a similar effect - namely weak Calf muscles, tight Calf muscles or a stiff ankle joint.

Achilles Paratendinopathy Signs & Symptoms

In the case of a severe episode of Achilles Paratendinopathy, there is Achilles tendon pain which is made worse by activity. The Achilles pain will become severe if the person tries to continue to run and, if the Achilles Tendon is extremely inflamed, it will feel worse when walking around. Often the Achilles Tendon feels very stiff first thing in the morning.

The appearance of the Achilles Tendon region becomes thickened, compared to the unaffected side, and will also be tender to touch. A rough, grating sound can often be experienced when the person moves their ankle up and down. This is known as 'crepitus' and is caused by the formation of fibrous tissue within the Achilles Paratendon in the latter stages of the inflammatory process.

Crucially, the differentiating feature of Achilles Paratendinopathy compared to Achilles Tendinopathy is that the painful area stays in the same place when the ankle is moved up and down. This is because the Achilles Tendon moves during ankle movement, but the Achilles Paratendon doesn't move.

Achilles Paratendinopathy Treatment

In the early, painful stage of the injury it is important the follow the PRICE protocol - protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation (never apply ice directly to the skin). Ice Packs for a period of twenty minutes every couple of hours may help with the pain but pain-relieving medication may also be necessary. The Aircast Ankle Cryo/Cuff is the most effective method of providing ice therapy, whilst protecting the injured tissues from further damage, and is the professional's choice. It can provide continuous ice cold water and compression for up to 8 hours to significantly reduce pain and swelling.

It is also important to rest the affected Achilles Paratendon from sporting activity until this acute pain resolves. Non impact exercises, such as pool running with a Buoyancy Belt, can be useful to maintain fitness without putting strain on the Achilles Tendon. If the pain is severe Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs ( NSAIDs) may be prescribed by a GP or Topical Anti Inflammatory Gel may be helpful. Electrotherapy treatments such as ultrasound and pulsed short wave diathermy may be given by a Chartered Physiotherapist as these have the effect of accelerating the inflammatory reaction and speeding the healing process.

An Achilles Strap can effectively relieve the symptoms of Achilles Paratendinopathy. By providing gentle compression an Achilles Strap reduces stress on the Achilles Tendon. Once the inflammation has settled, a Physiotherapist may begin to stretch and strengthen the Calf muscles. If the ankle or joints of the foot are stiff the Physiotherapist can mobilise them to restore the normal range of movement. These measures have the effect of taking the excessive load off the tendon and normalising the biomechanics of the lower leg.

Achilles Paratendinopathy Prevention

Research has suggested that the risk of a recurrence of the injury may be reduced by following a programme that incorporates eccentric muscle work. Eccentric muscle work refers to a muscle that lengthens whilst contracting - a contraction that occurs during movements such as landing and decelerating. Maximum tension is generated in the muscle during the eccentric contraction and this causes the tendon to adapt and get stronger.

An eccentric strengthening programme forms the basis of the rehabilitation exercises detailed for this injury, and can also help with injury prevention.

Training errors must be avoided and the intensity, duration and frequency of training should be carefully monitored and gradually progressed, with no sudden increases. Muscle strength and flexibility should be maintained through regular strengthening and stretching sessions. The training surface should be appropriate to the sport and it is important to wear the correct footwear. Shock Absorbing Insoles can reduce the stress on the Achilles Tendon region when running.

We'd like to thank Professor Nicola Maffulli for his contribution to this article.
An update on tendinopathies by Professor Nicola Maffulli




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