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4th December, 20203 min read

Achilles tendinopathy

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Dr Lauretta Ihonor
Last reviewed: 01/12/2020
Medically reviewed

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Introduction

Achilles tendinopathy is a condition that causes pain just above your heel. It’s caused by damaging a strong band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. This band of tissue is called your Achilles tendon. You use it to help you walk, run and jump.

There are lots of ways you can damage your tendon and develop Achilles tendinopathy, including:

  • doing the same exercises over and over again
  • not warming up before exercising
  • suddenly doing more exercise than normal
  • exercising in shoes that aren’t made for that purpose or in worn-out sports shoes

It’s also possible to get Achilles tendinopathy if you have arthritis or a bony growth on the back of your heel bone, which can rub against the tendon.

Symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy

The main symptom of Achilles tendinopathy is pain in the back of your leg – usually just above the heel.

You may find that the pain gets worse when you exercise and gets better when you rest. You may also notice some swelling around your heel, and feel stiff or sore in that area, especially in the morning.

In some cases, the damage to your Achilles tendon can be so bad, it tears. This is known as an Achilles tendon rupture and it needs urgent medical care.

It’s likely you have an Achilles tendon rupture if you suddenly develop really bad pain above your heel (it may feel like you’ve been kicked in your ankle) and notice you can’t walk or put weight on your foot as normal.

If this happens, go to the emergency department immediately.

How is Achilles tendinopathy diagnosed?

A doctor will usually diagnose Achilles tendinopathy based on your symptoms and after looking at and feeling your leg and ankle. In some cases, you may need imaging tests, especially if the doctor suspects you’ve torn the tendon.

Achilles tendinopathy treatment

Most cases of Achilles tendinopathy get better on their own in time. The exact time it will take varies from person to person, but it can take a few months to heal completely.

You can do a few things to help your recovery, including:

  • resting your ankle
  • icing your ankle and heel for 15 minutes every 1 to 2 hours if you have pain after moving around – you can use an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a thin towel
  • taking painkillers as needed – speak to a pharmacist or doctor for advice on the best painkillers to take, where to get them and how to safely take them
  • support your ankle with a bandage or other type of ankle wrapping
  • seeing a physiotherapy to learn special exercises to strengthen your calf muscles
  • seeing a foot specialist for advice on the best footwear or shoe inserts for you

References

  1. UpToDate [Internet]. Uptodate.com. 2020 [cited 1 December 2020]. Available here.
  2. UpToDate [Internet]. Uptodate.com. 2020 [cited 1 December 2020]. Available here.
  3. Quick Facts: Achilles Tendon Tears - MSD Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. MSD Manual Consumer Version. 2020 [cited 1 December 2020]. Available here.
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