March 19, 2017
You might not be a Greek god, but you do have an Achilles heel.

By Dr.  Ryan Geringer

The ancient myth of the unstoppable Greek god Achilles drives home an important lesson- you can be totally immobilized with an injury to your Achilles tendon.  This well-known tendon has the important task of connecting your heel bone to your calf muscles. Achilles tendinopathy or, injury to the tendon, encompasses a range of problems including common conditions such as Achilles tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon).  The Achilles tendon is notoriously slow to heal, mainly because of its construction.  It is buried under sheaths of fibrous connective tissue which help protect it from bumps and bruises, but it also gets in the way of the blood and oxygen supply needed to heal these painful conditions.

Anyone can strain their Achilles tendon, but it is most common in athletes, especially runners.  One study determined that 7%–9% of current runners develop an Achilles injury every year and over a lifespan, 52% of runners will develop tendinopathy [1].  It is most commonly seen in people between the ages of 30-40 when activity level remains high, but the body begins to age.  With x-rays, you and your doctor can see if there is a calcification on the heel at the attachment point of the tendon which is seen in over half of these cases.  MRIs can be used to more accurately assess the damage.  With most cases however, your description of the pain alone will result in the correct diagnosis.

Generally, treatment for the Achilles tendon is “conservative,” meaning non-invasive.  Surgery is, thankfully, rarely needed.  Instead, clinicians rely on time tested treatments including rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, and an exercise regime under the care of a physical therapist.  Typically, calf raises are prescribed, but not all sufferers are willing to go through the pain of the exercise.  There has also been evidence that massage and ultrasound therapy help to heal the condition by stimulating blood and oxygen flow to the area [1].  The blood and oxygen bring much-needed nutrients and proteins, allowing the body to repair itself.

A recent invention has also begun to be used in treatment.  The AirHeel by Aircast is a device with air chambers beneath the heel that also extend up the Achilles tendon.  While walking, the weight on your foot moves the air inside and provides a pulsating massage to the irritated tendon.  It can be worn throughout the day and can fit inside most shoes.  In the past few years, scientists have become interested in the AirHeel and it has been studied numerous times.  In each case, researchers found that regular use of the AirHeel treats Achilles tendonitis as well as the typical treatment of physical therapy [2].

We are proud to offer the AirHeel in our care kits, which combines this product with a complete therapeutic regimen of cold, stretching, and exercise.   With our complete care kit, you will have the tools to treat your condition on your time, and you’ll be back to playing your favorite sport pain-free.

 * This is blog is intended for education only. Please consult your physician before beginning any program. 

[1] Scott, A., Huisman, E., & Khan, K. (2011). Conservative treatment of chronic Achilles tendinopathy. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183(10), 1159–1165.

[2] Petersen, W., Welp, R., & Rosenbaum, D. (2007). Chronic Achilles tendinopathy: a prospective randomized study comparing the therapeutic effect of eccentric training, the AirHeel brace, and a combination of both. The American Journal Of Sports Medicine, 35(10), 1659-1667.


 

Joe McClung

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