ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — About 230,000 people injure their Achilles tendon each year in the U.S., and that number is on the rise. Anyone can suffer from this injury, but there are some factors that put you at more risk.
Forty-six-year-old Pamela Schaffrath knew she had a problem when she made a quick jump during a recreational basketball game.
“I felt like I got hit in the back of the foot with a bat,” said Schaffrath.
The sports enthusiast played basketball and pro football until she tore her Achilles, the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. It’s the largest tendon in the body, and can experience forces up to 12.5 times your weight during running. Doctors are seeing more of these injuries than ever. So who’s at risk?
“The conditions that cause that unfortunately include obesity, hypertension, diabetes, exposure to steroids,” shared George B. Holmes, Jr., MD, a foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.
The prime age for an Achilles tendon rupture is 30 to 40. You’re also more at risk if you wear high heel shoes, don’t stretch, don’t warmup before exercise, or over-train. Studies show the use of certain antibiotics and steroids may also up your chances. Treatments can include surgical procedures to repair the tendon, bracing, icing, anti-inflammatory meds, and strengthening or stretching exercises. Schaffrath had surgery and is ready to get back in the game … any game!
Achilles injuries are more common in sports where there’s a lot of speeding up and slowing down, such as football, pickleball, gymnastics, tennis, volleyball, basketball, and running.
Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.
BACKGROUND: The Achilles tendon is a band of fibrous tissue that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. When the calf muscles flex, the Achilles tendon pulls on the heel. This tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body, but it can still be torn and ruptured, resulting in painful injury. When the tendon is injured, you will feel a pain above your heel that hurts more when you stretch your ankle or stand on your toes. It can heal itself and get better over time, but it could also get worse. If the Achilles tendon is ruptured, there will be instant pain and potentially a snapping or popping sound. Bruising, swelling, and tenderness can also occur.
CAUSES: There are a surprising number of causes for an Achilles tendon injury. People who play sports or engage in similar physical activates can be at risk if there is a sudden change in an athlete’s training schedule or intensity level. Exercises that call for explosive movement, like burpees, could be a factor. Changing surfaces, such as switching from grass to concrete, and overstretching could leave the tendon weak and vulnerable. Chronic ankle instability, leg length difference, rolling inward on the foot when running, high arched feet, increasing age (over 30), and certain types of arthritis are risk factors that are mostly out of your control. Wearing high heels regularly can shorten the tendon which makes it more prone to injury, and certain antibiotics can put you at temporary risk. Sudden and hard athletic training movements (such as a sudden change in direction) cause tears and ruptures instantly but the tendon can also be slowly torn over time if adequate rest is not taken during the time of injury.
TREATMENT: Minor Achilles injuries can heal over time with simple rest, icing, and compression but more severe injuries will need more attention. If over the counter pain killers are not enough, your doctor may prescribe something stronger to relieve the pain and reduce inflammation. An orthotic device, a shoe insert or wedge that elevates the heel, can relieve strain on the tendon and lessen the amount of pressure that is being placed on it. Certain exercises and stretches can help, such as eccentric strengthening which involves slow let downs of weight, which has been shown to be beneficial in persistent Achilles problems. If acute or chronic Achilles tendon rupture occurs, it can be repaired in surgery and the patient can return to normal activity in about 6 months.
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