Tendon strains are common injuries during sports often plaguing runners and cyclists, footballers, tennis players, and basketball players. However, tendon strains are not limited to athletes as many people will experience a strain to the Achilles tendon at some point in their lives because it is used for walking and other everyday activities. In fact, due to the frequent demands on our Achilles tendons our Achilles tendons function with approximately 20% damage at all times and are constantly going through the tissue repair process.
Re-injury of a strained or stressed tendon occurs more easily than the initial injury and there is usually more inflammation around a re-injured tendon than there was during the first injury. An Achilles strain left untreated can easily become a chronic problem that disrupts your ease of walking and participation in activities that you enjoy, something we often take for granted.
A strain that goes left untreated can cause more pain in the tendon and may be a sign of chronic tendonitis (also spelled tendinitis). Achilles chronic tendonitis is a degenerative condition in the tendon fibres that attach the calf muscles, called the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, to the calcaneus (heel bone) at the back of the subtalar joint (also known as the talocalcaneal joint) in the ankle. Sufferers generally complain of a severe, burning pain in the area, which gradually worsens and is exacerbated by stress on the joint.
Grades of Tendon Strains
A tendon or muscle can be strained to varying degrees depending on the force that caused the strain and the strength of the tendon or muscle tissue. There are 3 difference grades of tendon strains and the grade is determined by the severity of the tissue damage.
Grade 1 – Mild Strain
A grade 1 strain is the least serious of Achilles tendon strains. With a grade 1 strain there is some stretching or minor tearing of the Achilles tendon tissue.
Grade 2 – Moderate Strain
A grade 2 strain occurs when a tendon or muscle is partially torn but still intact. If you have a grade 2 strain, strength in the Achilles tendon and gastrocnemius and soleus muscles is noticeably reduced. Approximately 75% of grade 2 tears occur in sports that involve sprinting or repetitive jumping. This grade of strain can also be effectively treated with cold compression and BFST®. It is also recommended that you allow your ankle to rest and possibly wear a brace to immobilize the ankle and allow the Achilles tendon tear to heal.
Grade 3 – Rupture or Severe Strain
When the Achilles tendon is completely torn (ruptured) it is considered a grade 3 tear. The stability of the ankle is greatly reduced and pain is evident. Treatment of a complete Achilles tendon tear requires surgery to rejoin the Achilles tendon to the calcaneus (heel bone) or back together at the point of the tear on the tendon. Cold compression and BFST® can be used prior to surgery to minimize tissue damage, resulting in a less invasive surgery.
In addition, using these therapies following surgery will help to repair and strengthen the Achilles tendon faster and more completely. With these therapies you will have less scar tissue formation on your Achilles tendon leaving it more elastic and less painful than if it was left to heal on its own.
Tendon Strain Symptoms
If you have suffered an Achilles tendon strain you may be experiencing the following symptoms:
- Pain in your Achilles tendon when you flex or extend your foot.
- Muscle spasm in the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the calf.
- Pain, tenderness, and a crackling noise may occur when the Achilles tendon is examined by touch (palpated).
- Failure of the foot flexing when squeezing the calf muscles (The Thompson Test).
- Noticeable loss of strength in a grade 2 or 3 Achilles tendon strain.
Causes of Tendon Strain
A strain in the Achilles tendon is caused by excessive twisting and turning, asudden traumatic injury, improper training or overuse during a prolonged period of time.
Whether you are a runner/athlete, painting on a ladder, or walking on ice, an unfortunate twist and awkward fall can cause you to strain your Achilles tendon if it is twisted abnormally. As well, using your Achilles when it is not warmed up properly (i.e. sprinting or overstretching it before the fibres are warm) can also lead to an acute strain. Repetitive overuse of the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon can cause a strain overtime.