You already know that staying active is the best way to stay healthy, but that comes with a risk. Repetitive use of joints can lead to a painful problem known as tendonitis. This can affect any part of the body — but it can be particularly troublesome in your feet, as pain and inflammation make it difficult to stand, much less walk.
Here are some of the reasons that tendonitis occurs, as well as a few ways you can help prevent the problem from ever happening.
What Causes Tendonitis?
One of the most common forms of tendonitis is Achilles tendonitis. The Achilles is a strong tendon – in fact, it’s the largest in your body. But it’s also one of the most overused, particularly if you do a lot of running and/or jumping. Your Achilles runs from the back of your calf to your heel — and while it’s built to handle a lot of stress, it can become damaged from repetitive motions.
Achilles tendonitis doesn’t usually develop due to a specific injury, but rather fatigue due to stress.
Over time, it simply won’t be able to “bounce back” like normal. When this happens, the fibers that make up the tendon begin to weaken, and the tiny connections between these fibers begin to break. This leads to small tears in the tendon, which can lead to stiffness, inflammation, and a great deal of discomfort.1
Not all tendonitis is caused by exertion. Bad posture, for example, puts a lot of stress on your joints and tendons, leading to inflammation. People with diabetes often have tendonitis, as do people who take certain kinds of medications. Bone spurs can also lead to tendonitis. These occur when the body produces extra bone in the area to try and protect from stress or friction. Tendonitis takes place when the spur rubs against a nearby tendon and causes irritation.2
Symptoms of Tendonitis
The biggest symptom of tendonitis, of course, is pain. The discomfort associated with Achilles tendonitis will typically spread from your calf to your heel. Pain is typically the worst when you first get out of bed in the morning, but then it will gradually dissipate as you start walking around.3
Another symptom of Achilles tendonitis is thickening of the tendon.4 You might notice a small bump near your heel that’s painful to the touch. The location of the tendonitis, as well as the severity of the problem, will determine the size of the lump.5You may also experience stiffness and tightness in the affected area. And that stiffness and tightness will likely be at its worst when you first get up after a long period of rest. As you begin moving around, you might notice the pain subsiding a bit.6
Seeing a Doctor
If pain is interfering with your daily routine, you should see a doctor for your tendonitis. They will examine the area closely, and then recommend ways to ease the discomfort. When diagnosing Achilles tendonitis, a doctor will usually ask you to rise onto your tiptoes. If you can do it, but it’s painful, you might have Achilles tendonitis. If you can’t rise up on your tiptoes at all, you might’ve ruptured the tendon or suffered some other type of serious injury.7
Treatment for Achilles Tendonitis
Most doctors will first recommend a conservative course of treatment, including rest, when they diagnose tendonitis. You’ll probably be asked to stop any sort of activity that could worsen your symptoms — like running, jumping, or even walking. Your doctor may also recommend that you switch to an exercise that won’t strain the affected area, such as swimming. If you have a severe case of Achilles tendonitis, you might need to use crutches for a few weeks.
Ice it Down
Ice may help reduce the discomfort and inflammation associated with Achilles or any other type of tendonitis. Cold compresses can be extremely effective, especially if you apply them no later than 48 hours after you first notice symptoms. Your doctor will tell you exactly how – and how often – to apply ice during the day. Just remember that you should never apply ice directly to your skin. Wrap ice cubes in a towel first.
Stretching and strengthening exercises are also effective ways to help with tendonitis pain. For example, calf stretches can lower the amount of stress experienced by the Achilles tendon and can reduce the risk of a recurrence. In addition, the stronger the muscles surrounding a tendon, the less pressure they apply to that tendon.9 Always follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to strengthening exercises, because you don’t want to risk making the injury even worse.
If your tendonitis pain persists, even after trying conservative measures, your doctor may want to try something else. Certain injections may help reduce inflammation and pain, and prescription medications may be necessary to ease discomfort.
Therapy may be needed in more severe cases. This could include heat and cold therapy, ultrasound treatment, or occupational therapy, which involves modification of work and/or exercise habits to help keep tendonitis from coming back.10
Recovering from a bout of tendonitis can take a long time. You might need treatment for a few months before your symptoms completely disappear. It will be important that you get as much rest as you can, so you can avoid re-injuring the affected area.
Tendonitis is much easier to prevent than to manage. The more precautions you take, the better the chances you will be able to avoid this troublesome problem. If you engage in physical activity on a regular basis, take the time to stretch thoroughly before your workout.11 Make sure you carve out about 10-15 minutes beforehand to stretch. Then take about the same amount of time to cool down once the workout is complete. This will give your muscles (and tendons) a chance to recover.
Achilles tendonitis is a painful problem, but there are things you can do to help ease your pain and speed recovery. If your pain prevents you from walking, see your doctor ASAP. He or she can offer some easy treatments to help get you back on your feet again, without discomfort!
Learn More About Foot Injuries:
What Is Plantar Fasciitis and How To Deal With It
Causes of Heel Pain (+ Helpful Ways To Fix It)
Haglund’s Deformity: Do You Suffer From This? (Symptoms Revealed)