The strained tendon is a common yet painful injury that will occur in almost everyone at least once in their lifetime. Achilles tendon strains are very common to runners and cyclists, as well as football, tennis and basketball players. However, many people will experience a strain to the Achilles tendon at some point in their lives as we use our Achilles tendon everyday for walking and other common activities. In fact, due to thefrequent demands on our Achilles tendons, on average our Achilles tendons function with 20% damage at all times and are constantly going through the tissue repair process.
The trick with a strained tendon is to make sure it heals properly which will provide the lowest chance of re-injury. 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. These injuries usually heal quickly if treated properly withcold compression and Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy™. Cold compression therapy is the first course of treatment when an injury occurs. Not only will it treat pain, it will reduce swelling which limits the amount of damage that can occur even after the injury happens. Once the strain and/or tear has healed, it is important to improve the health of the tendon andrestore the elasticity to the Achilles tendon with Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy™ (BFST®) to reduce the risk of restraining it again.
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 surgerywill 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, a sudden 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.
Achilles Tendon Treatments
It is important to treat Achilles tendon injuries as soon as possible, as any activity or strain you put on your tendon can re-injure it further. Though the pain, discomfort, and inconvenience of an Achilles condition can be overwhelming, it is possible to overcome it.
The trick with any tendon injury is getting it toheal with minimal scar tissue formation. Even with optimum healing, there is always less elasticity in a previously injured tendon. This will cause the tendon to hurt, during exercise and everyday activities. However, if you heal your injury efficiently and quickly, your chance of re-injury later on is much lower than average.
Allowing your Achilles tendon to rest is always recommended following injury. Avoid all activities that may have caused the injury or irritation andbegin cold compression treatments as soon as possible. The Achilles tendon is a difficult tendon to rest completely as it is an essential tendon for walking and daily activities. Fortunately, there are healing tools that can help treat your tendon and speed up the healing process so you can get back to a life without pain and risk of further injury. Blood Flow Stimulation Therapy™ (BFST®) will promote blood flow to heal your tendon faster and more completely than any other methods available.
Although steroid injections may provide temporary relief from the pain of Achilles tendinitis, they should generally be avoided as they weaken the tendon and may lead to a rupture. If you do opt for an injection, doctors usually recommend that you do not participate in strenuous activities for several weeks to reduce the risk of a rupture.