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The Achilles Tendon attaches the calf muscle (origin) to the heel bone (insertion). There are two main types of Achilles Tendonitis; mid-portion Achilles Tendonitis is in the middle of the Achilles Tendon, while Insertional Achilles Tendonitis is in the lower aspect of the tendon as it attaches to the heel bone (Calcaneus).
As the tendon attaches to the heel bone, it wraps around the curve of the calcaneus, attaching to the bottom of the heel. If there is pain or tenderness on the very bottom of the Achilles Tendon, it is referred to as an Achilles Enthesopathy.
The Achilles Tendon is the largest in the human body. Its function, along with the calf muscle, is to lift the heel off the floor and is therefore used for most weight-bearing activities. It absorbs large amounts of force on impact activities such as hopping, running, and jumping. When running, the Achilles tendon absorbs up to 4-7 times your body weight which highlights the overall strength and capacity of the tendon.
Approximately 6% of the general population reports Achilles tendon pain during their lifetime. Of these patients, roughly one-third will have insertional Achilles tendinopathy. Insertional Achilles Tendonitis may affect up to 9% of recreational runners. This article will cover the symptoms, treatment, and recovery of Insertional Achilles Tendonitis.
In acute episodes of Insertional Achilles Tendonitis, there is swelling and pain around the back of the heel bone. It is common to have these symptoms on one side only, but it is not entirely atypical to have pain in both heels.
Pain may be constant with use and ease with rest, while sharper pain is common with hopping and running. It is common to have these symptoms alongside retrocalcaneal bursitis, and in these instances, there may be a visible bump of swelling at the back heel.
In sub-acute cases, we expect stiffness at the back and underside of the heel first thing in the morning that eases within 30-45 minutes after getting out of bed. It may be tender at the start of exercise, such as a run and improve as it warms up, while it may be sore again within an hour after the activity.
There can be pain when walking after sitting for a period of time, and low-profile shoes can exacerbate symptoms, while heeled shoes can provide relief. We do not expect pain all along the tendon as this is more indicative of Achilles Paratenonitis.
In chronic cases, it is common for there to be constant pain with all weight-bearing activities and worse on exertion.
This provides pain at the back of the ankle that can result from an extra bone, such as an Os-Trigonum or a bony growth on the heel bone called a Stiedas process. This is common in dancers and exacerbated by terminal Plantarflexion.
Related Article: Posterior Ankle Impingement Overview
A stress fracture of the heel bone can occur due to a repetitive overload of the heel bone. This is common in runners; an x-ray or MRI can be required for diagnosis. Common symptoms include heel pain with weight-bearing activities
Related Article: Over of Calcaneus Stress Fractures
A bursa is a sac of fluid at the back of the heel bone. Its primary function is to act as a cushion between the heel and the tendon. If it becomes irritated through overuse, it can become swollen and painful. It is not unusual to have Insertional Achilles Tendonitis and Retrocalcaneus bursitis simultaneously.
Related Article: Heel Bursitis
Insertional Achilles Tendonitis has a clear mechanical pattern and can be diagnosed by a healthcare clinician through a physical assessment. Clinical tests, such as the Achilles Tendon pinch test, are a reliable form of test. The pinch test involves squeezing the distal 2cm of the Achilles Tendon insertion to the heel bone; pain is indicative of a positive test.
At the same time, a Thompson Test may be carried out to rule out an Achilles Tendon Rupture, and a SLR test should be carried out to rule out Sural nerve irritation.
An ultrasound is a cost-effective imaging tool for diagnosing Insertional Achilles Tendonitis. At the same time, a more expensive method is an MRI which is the most accurate type of scan for Insertional Achilles Tendonitis.
Physical Therapy is the most effective form of treatment for Insertional Achilles Tendonitis. Depending on the stage of Insertional Achilles Tendonitis, treatment may differ but lets have a look at some of the treatments available.
Pain relief is important in the acute stages as it prevents secondary compensation injuries. This can come in the form of acupuncture, dry needling and massage.
Whether you have had an onset of pain from running or walking, altering the volume of these activities is important.
Strength training is the best form of rehabilitation, but if your pain levels are too high to do this, then it can be difficult to make progress.
Reducing your step count and keeping it consistent is helpful. Keeping your running pace and distance consistent can is also beneficial while maintaining 24-48 hours of rest between runs to allow the tendon time to recover.
Strength training is the best form of treatment for any form of tendonitis. The difference between Mid-portion Achilles Tendonitis and Insertional Achilles tendonitis rehabilitation is that for insertional tendonitis, all forms of calf raises are from the ground upwards.
Dropping below a step or neutral can lead to compression on the Achilles Tendon, leading to further irritation.
Heavy Slow Resistance training on a leg press or using weights at home can significantly improve function and pain relief.
Related Articles: Insertional Achilles Tendonitis Exercises
A simple heel raise placed inside your shoe can provide immediate pain relief.
The best inserts for Insertional Achilles Tendonitis are custom insoles that are formulated by foot specialists. They typically have a heel raise that shortens the Achilles Tendon alongside some medial arch support of the foot.
Steroid injections are generally to be avoided for this condition as moderate evidence suggests it can weaken the tendon over time. Adverse effects were reported in up to 82% of corticosteroid trials, these include tendon rupture. Any possible benefit of corticosteroid injection appears to be outweighed by potential risks.
A walking boot with heel raises inside are generally preferred to offload the tendon before recommencing Physical Therapy.
There is low-level evidence that Shockwave Therapy can be used as a primary treatment for Insertional Achilles Tendonitis, and we recommend using it alongside strengthening exercises.
In rare cases, surgery may be necessary for Insertional Achilles Tendonitis where it hasn’t responded after 3 months of appropriate Physical Therapy.
This can be in the form of debridement of the tendon, and a Haglund’s deformity may be shaved if present. Physical Therapy is conducted for 6-12 weeks to ensure an optimal surgery recovery.
This is not medical advice and we recommend a consultation with a medical professional such as James McCormack to achieve a diagnosis. He offers Online Physiotherapy Appointments weekly.