The Role of Physical Therapy in Treating Achilles Tendinopathies

The Role of Physical Therapy in Treating Achilles Tendinopathies

1. Stretching Increases Your Flexibility

Achilles tendinopathy (AT) is a condition characterized by pain, swelling, and stiffness of the Achilles tendon. Injuries to this tendon are fairly common, with a lifetime incidence of approximately 24% in athletes and in those who participate in regular sporting activities. The incidence of these injuries is even greater in older men. AT also needs to be dealt with quickly as it could lead to rupture when left untreated, with a 3.5 to 1 male to female incidence ratio. For a condition that’s so prevalent, AT needs to be talked about more.

What is Achilles Tendinopathy?

First, it’s important to understand what the Achilles tendon is. It’s a tendon— a band of fibrous connective tissue that could withstand tension —that connects your heel bone to your calf muscles. It’s found just behind and above your heel, and it’s responsible for bending your foot downwards (plantar flexion).

Every time this tendon is damaged, it’s unable to heal completely. Instead, the damage from these repeated micro-trauma or injuries builds up, which can result in Achilles tendinopathy. These injuries could result from overuse, exercising in inappropriate footwear, having poor exercise techniques, and inobservance of proper body mechanics, to name a few. But those with specific types of arthritis (ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis) are especially more susceptible to AT.

Treatment Options

In order for Achilles tendinopathy to be diagnosed, your doctor will have to perform a thorough evaluation where you’ll have to disclose your medical history and undergo a physical exam. During this exam, the doctor will closely examine the location of pain or swelling, including the flexibility, alignment, range of motion, and reflexes of your foot and ankle. Upon your AT diagnosis, your doctor will most likely give you orders to reduce your physical activities and avoid strenuous exercise. More often than not, you’ll also be advised to seek help from a physical therapist, especially when you have joint pain or a known traumatic injury to your ankle.

However, it may be challenging to get a consultation with a doctor during the pandemic— shortage of healthcare professionals and health risks considered. Fortunately, the orthopedic team of physical therapists and rehab professionals are joined by nurses who are stepping up and taking more active roles in treating patients, including those with musculoskeletal injuries like AT. Despite the severe nursing shortage, remote learning has made it easier for nurses to increase their skillset and be qualified in different areas of healthcare. Registered nurses already in the field can upskill through RN to BSN programs available online. These programs allow RNs to specialize in orthopedic treatment and rehabilitation, which allows them to build up expertise in sports medicine and physical therapy.

In the event that you do get a consultation and get referred to a physical therapist, they’ll perform a biomechanical assessment, cross-checking with the doctor’s referral notes. If the AT is still in the early stages, a Kinesio tape may be applied on the ankle to provide added support and help with pain management. There will also be a number of hands-on treatments that your PT can do for you ranging from range-of-motion to strength-building exercises, in which manually facilitate movement and provide the ample amount of tension, guiding you through movements with the proper alignment. Moreover, your PT will discuss and teach you how to do functional activities at home using proper body mechanics so that you can safely perform the tasks and achieve your recovery goals.

But in severe cases where home remedies, anti-inflammatory meds, and therapy aren’t effective, surgery may be done to repair the Achilles tendon. This is particularly true when the AT gets progressively worse and causes the tendon to rupture. This procedure will be done by an orthopedic surgeon. And after your surgery, you’ll most likely have to continue physical therapy to aid recovery.

A Step in the Right Direction

The best way to avoid Achilles tendinopathy is to take care of your tendon. You can do this by moderating your activity levels, strengthening your calf muscles, cross-training, and stretching. Not only does stretching help you prevent injuries to your Achilles tendon, it also boosts your overall health. Moreover, it’s important to listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel. For cases like AT where it’s difficult to see damages, you may have to rely on sensation. When you’re feeling pain, stiffness, and limitation of movement, then it’s best to see a doctor to make sure everything is in top shape.

The Achilles tendon is crucial for daily activities like walking and running, so make sure to take good care of yours.

Article exclusively written for

Authored for Renee Jordyn


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