Diagnosing your Achilles tendon pain – Increase your awareness and take action!
So what is causing your Achilles tendon pain? It’s possible you are suffering from what is called what is called Achilles tendinosis. Your Achilles (uh-KIL-eez) tendon is a band of tissue that connects the calf muscles at the back of your lower leg to your heel bone. Achilles tendinosis describes the degeneration of this tissue over time. The cause? Well that may vary.
Achilles tendinosis is often a running injury or other sport-related injury resulting from overuse, intense exercise, jumping, or other activities that strain the tendon and calf muscles. But don’t despair! But do not despair! Most cases can be treated with consistent, relatively simple care from your own home after a consultation with your doctor. But before self-medicating, it’s first important to have your Achilles tendon pain properly diagnosed!
What are the signs and symptoms?
Achilles tendinosis may begin with inflammation of the tendon that links your leg muscles to the back of your heel bone. The most common sign of the condition is Achilles tendon pain that develops gradually and worsens over time. Signs and symptoms of Achilles tendinosis include:
- Mild ache or pain at the back of the leg and above the heel after running or other sports activity
- Episodes of more severe pain associated with prolonged running, stair climbing or intense exercise, such as sprinting
- Tenderness or stiffness, especially in the morning, that usually improves with mild activity
- Mild swelling or a “bump” on your Achilles tendon
- A crackling or creaking sound when you touch or move your Achilles tendon
- Weakness or sluggishness in your lower leg
So when is the right time to see a doctor? If you are experiencing pain around an Achilles tendon or heel, it’s the right time to call your doctor. The pain may be caused by tendinosis, inflammation of other nearby tissue, or other forms of tissue damage. Therefore, it’s important to obtain a timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment. If the pain or disability is severe, seek immediate care.
What can you expect from your doctor?
If you’re experiencing Achilles tendon pain and other symptoms of tendinosis, you’ll likely begin by seeing your family doctor or general practitioner. You may be referred to a doctor specializing in sports medicine or a specialist in disorders of bones, tendons and joints (orthopedist) or a specialist in physical and rehabilitative medicine (physiatrist).
Prior to your visit, it’s helpful to reflect on this checklist of questions regarding your symptoms and factors that may be contributing to your condition. Be prepared to answer the following:
- When did pain or other symptoms begin?
- Are symptoms worse at certain times of day or after certain activities?
- Does the pain lessen with rest?
- What is your normal exercise routine?
- Have you recently made changes to your exercise routine, or have you recently started participating in a new sport?
- What have you done to alleviate pain?
- What type of shoes do you wear for various activities?
In turn, here are some questions you can ask your doctor at the appointment:
- What is likely causing the pain?
- What are my treatment options?
- How long is recovery likely to take?
- How much will I need to restrict my current level of activity or change my exercise routine?
- When do I need to see you for a follow-up appointment?
What kinds of tests assist with diagnosis?
A diagnosis of Achilles tendinosis is based on your answers to questions, results of a physical examination and, if necessary, imaging tests.
Exam – During the initial physical exam, your doctor will gently touch (palpate) the affected area to determine the location of pain, tenderness or swelling. He or she will also judge the flexibility, alignment, range of motion and reflexes of your foot and ankle.
Imaging tests – Imaging tests can help rule out other causes of symptoms and reveal damage to the tendon. Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
- X-ray, which produces images of hard tissues, can help rule out other causes of symptoms.
- Ultrasound, an image of soft tissues produced with the use of sound waves, can reveal signs of inflammation and damage to the Achilles tendon. The images can also produce live-action images of the tendon in motion.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses a magnetic field and radio waves to produce cross-sectional views or 3-D images, can show details about tissue degeneration and tendon ruptures.
Whether your Achilles tendon pain is mild or more intense, it’s important to make yourself aware of your options and what you can expect from a visit to your doctor. Stay one step ahead by taking action and seeking a proper diagnosis!
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Dr. Meredith Warner is a board certified, Fellowship Trained Foot and Ankle, Orthopedic surgeon practicing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dr. Warner is committed to offering her patients an accurate diagnosis along with a comprehensive treatment plan in order to get them back to a pain free life. Dr. Meredith Warner specializes in the treatment of orthopedic issues, providing operative and non-operative treatment plans of orthopedic problems, including musculoskeletal pain such as chronic back, neck and foot pain, reconstructive surgery of the foot and ankle, arthritis, diabetic, hammer toe, bunion, wound care, work injuries, fitness and nutrition and osteoporosis issues.