Achilles tendinitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the large band of tissue that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Achilles tendinitis is caused by repetitive or intense strain on the Achilles tendon. It is most often caused by a sport-related injury that involves overuse, intense exercise, jumping, or other activities that strain the tendon and calf muscles. It can also be caused by exercising without warming up properly, poor flexibility of the calf muscles, or starting a new exercise regimen after a long period of little or no exercise.
Achilles tendinitis usually causes pain that develops and worsens gradually over time. Symptoms can be a mild ache or pain at the back of the leg and above the heel after exercise, more severe pain with prolonged or intense exercise, tenderness or stiffness (particularly in the morning) that may improve with mild activity, mild swelling or a “bump” on the Achilles tendon, a crackling or creaking sound when you touch or move the Achilles tendon, and weakness or sluggishness in the lower leg.
Most cases of Achilles tendinitis are treated with simple at-home care, such as engaging in less strenuous exercise or taking a break from a regular exercise routine, and ice, compression and elevation in the acute stages. Stretching and exercises are important for recovery and for preventing recurring problems. If Achilles tendinitis continues to be a problem, treatment may be anti-inflammatory medications for pain and in more severe cases, a cortisone injection or even surgery. If left untreated, Achilles tendinitis can become a chronic problem, and can lead to more complicated problems such as tendinosis, (a weakening of the tendon that makes it more vulnerable to severe damage) or a tear or rupture in the tendon (a painful injury that usually requires surgery to repair the damaged tendon).
Acupuncture is a great option in the management of Achilles tendinitis and can promote proper healing to ensure full recovery from this condition. As with other injuries, Achilles tendinitis is, according to Chinese medicine (TCM), caused by stagnation of qi-energy and blood. When the body’s energy is blocked or not flowing properly, the area that is blocked is unable to receive proper nourishment to perform its functions, leading to pain, stiffness, and weakness in the area. This blockage can be due to external causes such as trauma or injury, or from internal causes such as a weakness in the leg or heel due to our genetics or accumulated lifestyle habits. Acupuncture treatment focuses on removing the blockage and helping the energy and blood to flow again in order to remove pain and resolve the symptoms of the injury. This also helps the body to get blood and energy to the injured area, so that it can properly heal.
An acupuncturist also looks at what underlying factors have influenced health and weakened the tendon or made it vulnerable to injury. These can be things like our genetic constitution, our overall health, and our lifestyle choices such as nutrition, diet, and stress, that can lead to internal health imbalances that can contribute to injury. By also treating these underlying factors, we can strengthen the injured area and improve health, to help prevent future reoccurrence. In this way, acupuncture can be a great help for the resolution of an Achilles tendon problem.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.