Achilles Tendon Pain in Runners

Are you a serious runner planning to take on the Kansas City Marathon this year? Or maybe you just run on occasion to relax? Or trying to get back in shape for the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot?  The Kansas City Marathon is less than three weeks away! Many runners are finishing up their training programs or perhaps trying to get in some last-minute miles for conditioning. We want to help you avoid Achilles tendon pain!

Whether it’s from many months of hard training, or a  more recent rapid increase in activity that you aren’t accustomed to, many runners will be sidelined this year by a commonly found running condition known as Achilles tendinopathy.  Achilles tendinopathy is a term referring to a larger category of conditions such as Achilles tendinitis, Achilles tendinosis, or non-insertional Achilles tendinosis.  Inflammation and degeneration of the Achilles tendon is the common denominator in each of these disorders.  And these will lead to severe pain in the back of the heel.

 Achilles tendon

Runners in particular often suffer from non- insertional Achilles tendinosis.  This condition leads to damage in the area 2-6 cm from the tendon’s insertion in the heel bone.  Sometimes this area is referred to as the “watershed zone”.  It is called this because this area is a naturally occurring area of diminished blood supply.  Lack of blood supply will make healing time longer and often more difficult.

Achilles tendinosis in runners is commonly a result of several factors:
  1. hereditary foot instability
  2. misalignment
  3. excessive foot flexibility or laxity
  4. improper running technique
  5. worn-out or inappropriate running shoes
  6. stressful running environments such as concrete, hill intervals
  7. attempting to increase running mileage too quickly

In terms of exercise, running is a high impact sport.  Your Achilles tendon can be forced to handle forces 10-12 times your total body weight while running.  Imagine the toll that takes over time!  It can eventually lead to chronic Achilles tendon degeneration, thickening, and inflammation.

How common is this condition?

Several studies have reported on the lifetime incidence of Achilles tendinopathy in competitive runners.  The numbers are surprisingly high, ranging from 40-50%.  Furthermore, this condition can account for 6-17% of all injuries in recreational runners.  The risk of complications increases with age and in males… sorry guys.  Over time, chronic degeneration of the tendon fibers can also make runners more susceptible to Achilles tendon ruptures.  These will often need surgical repair.  And unfortunately, can require months to upwards of a year for rehabilitation time.

This condition will usually present as pain, swelling, or thickening of the back of the heel.  Typically the pain will be worse at the beginning of a workout and post-exercise.  It often responds well to conservative therapy.  Conservative therapies such as stretching, icing, anti-inflammatory medication, heel lifts, and custom orthotics may help.  Some cases may see improvement with physical therapy.  A period of immobilization could also be beneficial.

Kansas City Foot and Ankle

Achilles tendon pain in runners is no joke!  KCFA has a wide variety of the latest technology and treatment protocols to help keep you out of the operating room.  We utilize technology that professional athletes rely on, such as musculoskeletal laser therapy and extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT).  We also use advanced healing treatments such as Amniofix regenerative matrix and platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) injections.  These can rapidly accelerate the healing process.  We have a team of skilled surgeons to rely on if surgery cannot be avoided.  They will take the time needed to guide you through the process.

If you think you may be suffering from Achilles tendon pain or a similar condition, give us a call!  We would also be happy to see you to make sure that you are race-day ready.  Give our office a call today at 816-943-1111 and we will get you back up and running!