By: Dr. Kim L. Dao

We’ve heard of the mythological definition of the Achilles Heel: The idiomatic weakness or vulnerability that brings about a hero’s downfall. Anatomically, the Achilles tendon is an area that can be prone to injury ranging from tendinitis to a full-blown rupture.

The Achilles tendon is a thick cord as the muscles of the calf converge and connect to the back of the calcaneus or heel bone. This particular structure is easily injured in those who are active, especially in high-impact sports such as running and basketball. You may have heard of athletes who have been placed on the injured list due to Achilles tendinitis or rupture (partially or completely). Most notably: Kevin Durant during his time with the Golden State Warriors.

Injury to the Achilles can begin as inflammation due to repetitive motion, which can lead to tendinitis. Continuance of the repetitive motion can ultimately lead to rupture. Tendinitis pain can be described as throbbing, aching pain that is usually at its worst in the morning first thing out of bed or after prolonged activity. This inflammation will appear as an enlargement of the tendon due to swelling with increase in warmth. This leads to eventual weakness, until “POP!”… a sudden weakness in ankle dorsiflexion or loss of it entirely, is felt. Some may not experience pain at all, but a sharp pain may also be felt, and instantly, your ability to walk becomes difficult.

Usually Achilles tendinitis can be treated non-surgically with immobilization in a pneumatic walking boot, but once it becomes a rupture, surgery is needed to reattach the tendon back to its insertion site in the back of the calcaneus. Rupture typically happens at the area approximately 2.5 inches from the point if attachment to the heel bone where blood flow is poor.

Risk reduction is key to prevention of Achilles tendon issues. These include regular stretching and calf strengthening exercises. When stretching, try holding the stretch for at least 30 seconds or longer, and maintain a regimen lasting approximately 10 minutes per day. You also want to vary your exercise routine between high-impact and low-impact, to decrease the impact stress on your Achilles tendon. Remember to gradually increase activity to tolerance, and allow your body to slowly be able to handle the intensity. Rupture is more likely to happen when there is an abrupt increase in activity.

Whether you are suffering from a minor irritation from Achilles tendinitis or a traumatic Achilles tendon rupture, our podiatrists at Southwest Austin Foot and Ankle Clinic will be able to provide care and formulate a treatment plan to get you back on your feet!