Welcome to week two of our series on sports injuries – in particular basketball injuries. The basketball season is starting and we decided that we would give you some information on the top injuries that we see from basketball players.
This week we are talking about Achilles tendinitis.
Are you wondering why it is called the Achilles tendon? Does the name Achilles sound familiar but you don’t know why? Well, you have asked the right person. I love those Greeks. They were a scrappy bunch! The quick 411 is that Achilles is the Greek hero of the Trojan War. He is the son of a mortal and a nymph. His mother, the nymph, tried to make her son immortal, by dipping him into the River Styx, while holding him by his left ankle. His heel was therefore the only portion of Achilles capable of sustaining a mortal wound. Get it – his heel is his weak spot.
So that is where the Achilles tendon gets its name. It is the tendon in your heel. It is actually the largest tendon in your body. It connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. You use it every time you walk, run, and jump.
There are two types of tendinitis. There is noninsertional tendinitis which is when the tendon fibers in the middle portion of the tendon have small tears and they cause the tendon area to swell and thicken. This is the most common form of tendonitis in young people.
The second type of tendinitis is insertional tendinitis. With insertional tendinitis the problem is in the lower portion of the heel where the tendon attaches (inserts) to the heel bone. This type of tendinitis can occur at any time whether the person is active or not.
Achilles tendinitis usually results from repetitive stress to the tendon. Something like running or jumping repeatedly over time. (sound like basketball?) It can also happen when there are sudden increases in activity without letting your body adjust. You know, when you decided that you are an athlete and go out for a 5 mile run when your previous athleticism was walking to the refrigerator from the couch.
Also having tight calf muscles can put stress on the Achilles tendon. This is a strong reason to warm up before you exercise. Make sure your muscles are ready to work. This is particularly true in a sport like basketball. If you don’t warm up and then go out and start pounding the boards, you are putting a lot of stress on your body. Taking the time to warm up will prevent some injuries.
Some people develop bone spurs on their heel. A bone spur is an extra bone growth. A bone spur forms when the body tries to repair itself by building extra bone. It typically forms in response to pressure, rubbing, or stress. The bone spur can rub on the tendon and cause pain.
An injured Achilles tendon will cause a person pain when they first start moving – like first thing in the morning. Also, there could be pain in the back of the heel that increases with activity. It is often more painful the day after exercising. You may even be able to see a thickening of the tendon or swelling that gets worse with the more you move.
If you are exercising and you hear a “pop” from your Achilles tendon, you need to get to the doctor as soon as possible. The “pop” can be an indication of a ruptured Achilles tendon. If you have ruptured your tendon, you may not be able to point your foot down or stand on your toes. You need medical assistance if your Achilles ruptures.
If you are having pain, I would suggest a quick trip to your friendly podiatrist. The doctor can look and feel along the tendon. Also x-rays may be taken to see if the lower part of the tendon has calcified. In severe cases of noninsertional Achilles tendinitis, calcification of the tendon in the middle can also be seen on x-ray.
Depending on what the doctor finds upon examination, he/she may recommend rest, ice, and a change in activity. It may be time for a little cross training until your tendon is healed. If your tendon is very painful, you may need to wear a “boot” for short time to rest the tendon. Unfortunately, there is not a quick fix for Achilles tendinitis. The doctor may also have you see a physical therapist who can show you exercises that will help with your recovery and help you avoid repeating the injury.
My suggestion is that when you feel any twinges in the heel or along the Achilles tendon that you take it seriously and rest the tendon and apply ice. If you take care of it quickly, you will not be on the sideline for as long.
Just as a note –
As it gets colder here in the Midwest, I think more and more about staying home where it is nice and warm. Also, with the end of the year coming up, it is a great time to schedule appointments to fix bunions, hammers toes, and infected toe nails. You can use the time off at the end of the year to recover and you will then be all set for next summer. So, now that you have hit your deductible, it is time to get your tootsies all set. Everyone can then rave about your beautiful feet.
Trivia Question of the week– There are six places in the body that normally can form bone spurs. Name three of them.
Find the answer on our Facebook page – Evanston Podiatric Surgeons – on Friday, November 16th. While you’re there, please take a moment to “like” us.
Follow us on twitter – @EvPodiatric and the answer will be tweeted on Friday morning.