What is the Achilles tendon?
The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. It lets you rise up on your toes and push off when you walk or run.
What are common Achilles tendon problems?
The two main problems found in the Achilles tendon are:
Achilles tendinopathy. Achilles tendinopathy includes one of two conditions:
Tendinitis. This actually means "Inflammation of the tendon," but inflammation is rarely the cause of tendon pain.
Tendinosis. This refers to tiny tears (microtears) in the tissue in and around the tendon caused by overuse. In most cases Achilles tendon pain is the result of tendinosis, not tendinitis. Some experts now use the term tendinopathy to include both inflammation and microtears. But many doctors may still use the term tendinitis to describe a tendon injury.
Achilles tendon tear or rupture. An Achilles tendon also can partially tear or completely tear (rupture). A partial tear may cause mild or no symptoms. But a complete rupture causes pain and sudden loss of strength and movement.
Problems with the Achilles tendon may seem to happen suddenly, but usually they are the result of many tiny tears to the tendon that have happened over time.
What causes Achilles tendon problems?
Achilles tendon problems are most often caused by overuse or repeated movements. These movements can happen during sports, work, or other activities. For example, if you do a lot of pushing off or stop-and-go motions when you play sports, you can get microtears in the tendon. Microtears can also happen with a change in how long, hard, or often you exercise. Microtears in the tendon may not be able to heal quickly or completely.
Being out of shape or not warming up before exercising may also cause Achilles tendon problems. So can shoes with poor arch supports or rigid heels.
An Achilles rupture is most often caused by a sudden, forceful motion that stresses the calf muscle. This can happen during an intense athletic activity or even during simple running or jumping. Middle-aged adults are especially likely to get this kind of injury.
A rupture most often occurs in sports such as basketball, racket sports (including tennis), soccer, and softball.1 A tendon already weakened by overstretching, inflammation, or small tears is more likely to rupture.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Achilles tendon problems include swelling in the ankle area and mild or severe pain. The pain may come on gradually or may only occur when you walk or run. You may have less strength and range of movement in the ankle.
A rupture of the Achilles tendon may cause a sudden, sharp pain. Most people feel or hear a pop at the same time. Swelling and bruising may occur, and you may not be able to point your foot down or stand on your toes.