Understanding tendonitis of the foot and ankle

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Understanding tendonitis of the foot and ankle

Throughout your body you have tough, cord-like bands of fibrous connective tissue connecting muscle to bone or muscle to muscle called tendons.  If a tendon is overworked too hard or too frequently or in the wrong way, damage and tiny tears can develop.  When this happens, pain usually accompanies the damage along with swelling and stiffness.  One area of your body that can be prone to developing tendonitis is your feet and ankles.  Any kind of repetitive motion, overstretching or an injury such as an ankle sprain, can lead to tendonitis with the most common forms being Achilles tendonitis and extensor tendonitis.

Common causes of foot and ankle tendonitis

Any time there is excessive strain on your feet or ankles, such as running, walking, and excessive standing can all put strain on your feet.  Foot and ankle tendonitis can affect people of all ages, but is more common amongst adults who engage in a lot of physical activity.  Older adults can also be susceptible to tendonitis since your tendons can lose elasticity becoming weaker with age. 

There can be a variety of causes leading to tendonitis, but here are the four most common causes of foot and ankle tendonitis:

1.  Injury

Any type of trauma to your foot or ankle can cause tendonitis.  For example, jumping too suddenly or powerfully or even simply your foot or ankle rubbing constantly against a shoe.  This most often occurs at the top of the foot or heal, resulting in tendonitis of the Achilles tendon.

2.  Overuse

Another common cause of foot and ankle tendonitis is over-stretching and tearing of a tendon.  Overuse occurs when there is an extensive increase in physical activity and the tendon is being worked too hard in a short period of time.

3.  Medical conditions

     Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout can lead to tendonitis of the foot and ankle

4.  Abnormal foot structure

If you are flat-footed or have high arches, this puts more pressure on one or more tendons which can develop into tendonitis. 

Symptoms of foot and ankle tendonitis

Depending on the location and severity of the tendonitis, having tendonitis will result in certain symptoms you will be aware of. These symptoms may include:

·      Pain

Typically the first sign of a problem is a sharp and burning pain.  The pain usually starts off at the location of the affected tendon and if the condition worsens, the pain can quickly spread.  The longer you stay on your feet, the more pain you will have.

·      Swelling

Another symptom that can develop is swelling.  This will be noticed by a lump forming over the tendon that is tender to the touch.

·      Stiffness

One result of tendonitis is stiffness in the foot and ankle.  This can also cause any movement to be painful.

Treatment for foot and ankle tendonitis

Treatment for tendonitis of the foot and ankle depends on the severity with the aim being to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.  Here are some common treatment options for foot and ankle tendonitis:

·      Rest

One of the best things you can do for tendonitis is to refrain from any activities causing pain and discomfort.  That can be hard to do but it is important to reduce movement as much as possible allowing the tendon to heal.  Bandages, splints, and braces may be useful in reducing movement.

·      Heat and cold

During the initial phase of the healing process which typically lasts 48-72 hours, cold or using ice should be used following an injury especially if it involves swelling and pain.   Always use a barrier such as a towel in between skin and the ice pack.  Then, as the initial stages of pain and swelling decrease, this is when heat can be used to draw blood to the muscle to increase flexibility.

·      Physical Therapy

The best option to treat foot and ankle tendonitis is to see a physical therapist.  Physical therapists can manipulate and massage the affected area, providing relief and accelerating the healing process.  They can also design the correct exercise program for you to stretch and strengthen the affected tendon.