When the Achilles tendon is overworked by activities such as running or jumping, tendonitis can ensue. Achilles tendonitis is characterized by pain and inflammation of the tendon making walking and running painful and difficult. There are degrees of severity of Achilles tendonitis, and more severe conditions require more time to heal. For most Achilles tendonitis conditions, natural remedies can be used for healing, and generally yield good results. Most of the remedies can be performed at home and with little or no cost.
If Achilles tendonitis is caught early, the body can heal the inflamed tissue if it is allowed to do so without added stresses on the tendon. Therefore it is important to rest the ankle joint for as long as needed. The journal "American Family Physician" suggests that you should rest your ankle joint from two to four weeks for mild to moderate severity Achilles tendonitis. Sometimes, it is necessary to immobilize the ankle with a splint or cast, especially in more severe cases.
Ice and Heat
Achilles tendonitis is characterized by inflammation of the tendon. If the inflammation escalates, the area may begin to swell. "American Family Physician" recommends that this is best treated with ice packs on the tendon. Ice should be applied two or three times daily. However, use ice only within the first 48 hours after symptoms appear in order to control the inflammation. After 48 hours, healing must be facilitated, and this is best achieved using heat. Warm moist towels or a heating pad is effective in promoting blood flow, which is required for healing. Apply the heat three to four times per day.
Precisely why massage works for so many musculoskeletal injuries is not well understood. However, it is thought that massage improves blood flow and lymphatic drainage to facilitate healing of damaged tissues. It also prevents or breaks apart micro-adhesions, which are a form of scarring that can cause pain. As outlined in the book, "Clinical Mastery in the Treatment of Myofascial Pain," myofascial release is a massage technique that specifically targets breaking the adhesions between the muscle and the fascia. A related technique known as transverse friction massage is often used over damaged tendons. However, although widely used for treating Achilles tendonitis, its effectiveness has been questioned. Any massage can result in soreness, pain and aching, and this is usually temporary. Improperly massaged tissues can lead to more serious complications such as bleeding and nerve damage. Therefore, it is recommended to choose a qualified massage practitioner.
Acupuncture is widely used to alleviate pain in various areas of the body. It also can be used to treat tendonitis pain, although it is unknown whether it actually speeds the healing and recovery of Achilles tendonitis. Precisely why acupuncture alleviates pain is unknown and its physiological mechanisms are not understood. However, the National Institutes of Health has determined that acupuncture is an effective pain remedy. Acupuncture treatment usually requires one session three times per week. The treatment period usually lasts for several weeks.
A 2004 report in the "British Journal of Sports Medicine" confirmed that eccentric training is effective in treating Achilles tendonitis. With specific regard to Achilles tendonitis, eccentric exercise refers to activating or contracting the calf muscles during their lengthening period. The technique involves a gradual progression of flexion and extension cycles of the foot under the body’s weight load. This produces progressive strengthening at the time the calf muscles are contracting. Clinical results show that this therapy is most effective when used in combination with ice, heat and other mild exercise therapies. Eccentric training therapy for Achilles tendonitis should be performed under the supervision of a therapist because improper technique can result in tendon injury.
- “American Family Physician”; Common Conditions of the Achilles Tendon; M. Mazzone and T. McCue; May 2002
- “Clinical Mastery in the Treatment of Myofascial Pain”; L. Ferguson and R. Gerwin; 2005
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Tendonitis
- “British Journal of Sports Medicine”; Eccentric training in patients with chronic Achilles tendinosis; L. Ohberg, et. al.; February, 2004
- “Cochrane Database System Review”; Deep transverse friction massage for treating tendinitis; L. Brosseau, et. al.; July, 2002