Foot & Ankle Tendinitis
How many tendons would you guess you have in your entire body? Would you believe that the actual answer, according to most estimates, is around 4,000?
That naturally includes several major tendons in your feet and ankles. You’ve probably heard of the Achilles, but there are many others, and several have a large role to play in enabling smooth, pain-free locomotion. So when they break down and start to hurt, it can make even simple tasks very uncomfortable!
Fortunately, while tendinitis can be very painful and frustrating in the short term, even the most stubborn cases can usually be treated conservatively, thanks to advanced treatments available at Rainier Foot & Ankle Associates.
What Is Tendinitis?
Tendons are tough “cords” of fibrous tissue that link muscles to bones. When those muscles contract and relax, tendons help ensure your body makes the appropriate motions. (This is what separates them from ligaments, which connect bones to other bones.)
“Tendinitis” is a bit of a catch-all term that can refer to any kind of inflammation, irritation, degeneration, or injury to the tendon short of a full rupture. Usually this leads to symptoms such as swelling, chronic pain and soreness, and stiffness within the affected tendon.
Although you might feel like you can bear with a mild case of tendinitis, the truth is that the longer you don’t treat it, the worse it is likely to get. The tendon itself could eventually rupture, and that’s a much more painful and difficult recovery.
So if your feet are hurting, you should always seek proper care!
Common Types of Foot and Ankle Tendinitis
Some of the most common tendinitis conditions we treat at Rainier Foot & Ankle include:
- Achilles tendinitis. Probably the most common and most well-known form of tendinitis. You’ll likely notice pain and stiffness along the back of your heel or just above it, depending on which part of the Achilles tendon is irritated.
- Flexor tendinitis. With this form of tendinitis, you’ll typically feel pain when you flex your big toe. Because the flexor tendon runs all the way from the lower leg to the big toe, pain can be felt anywhere from the back of the ankle, arch, or big toe itself.
- Extensor tendinitis. The extensor tendon runs from the front of the lower leg to the toes. When it gets damaged, you’ll feel it directly on the top of your foot, especially when flexing the foot or toes upward.
- Peroneal tendinitis. Here the pain will be along the outside edge of your foot or ankle, typically when pushing off with your foot. You might also feel slightly wobbly or unstable when running or performing weight-bearing activities.
- Posterior tibial tendinitis. Pain here is concentrated along the inside middle of the foot near the arch, and may be worst when pushing off the foot. This form of tendinitis is common in people with flat feet, and chronic posterior tibial tendon dysfunction can actually lead to flatfoot conditions later in life.
What Caused My Tendinitis?
Although the specific contributing causes of your pain will vary on a case-by-case basis, there are a few factors that are common to most instances of tendinitis.
In the vast majority of cases, tendinitis is caused by overuse rather than one specific injury or trauma. In other words, the tendon in question was subjected to repetitive stress and abuse, beyond what it was conditioned to handle, without having enough time to recover.
Very frequent contributing factors include:
- Shoes that don’t fit (too big or too small) or don’t give you enough cushioning and support for your activities (because they’re worn out, designed for a different sport, etc.)
- “Weekend warrior” activity—in other words, long periods of sedentary activity followed by brief but intense bursts of exercise.
- Starting a new training program, or rapidly ramping up an existing one.
- Structural and biomechanical issues such as flat feet, tight calf muscles, overpronation, etc.
- Engaging in high-impact sports or activities (basketball, running, dance, etc.) or working a job that keeps you on your feet most of the day.
Tendinitis also tends to be especially common in individuals in their 30s through 50s. This is sort of a “sweet spot” for injury, since individuals in this age range may continue to be highly active even as tendons start to lose strength and flexibility with age.
Treating Your Tendons
Again, the specific treatment protocols we recommend will depend on the specifics of your injury: what tendon(s) are affected, what contributing causes are involved, how severe your symptoms are, and even what your lifestyle goals are.
But once again, there are some common recommendations that are often prescribed in many situations—and the great news is, surgery is rarely necessary since we have a variety of advanced procedures that can help when traditional remedies don’t do the trick.
The “basics” of tendinitis treatment often include things like:
- Temporarily resting the painful area
- Using over-the-counter medications to control pain and swelling
- Switching to more supportive shoes
- Stretching and exercise (as prescribed by your doctor)
If chronic tendinitis isn’t responding to the basics—or you just want a faster return to action—we can offer procedures such as:
- Extracorporeal pulse activation treatment (EPAT), a sophisticated system that uses targeted pressure waves to stimulate a rapid healing response in injured tissues. It’s commonly used by professional athletes, but it can work well for anyone!
- Multiwave Locked System (MLS) laser therapy, which uses light energy from robotically synchronized lasers to rapidly relieve pain and swelling, and create a healing environment that allows tissues to restore themselves.
- Amniotic tissue injections, an alternative to the above procedures that promotes faster recovery by flooding the injured area with growth factors and other nutrients crucial for tendon healing.
So don’t continue to put up with chronic or recurring tendon pain! The team at Rainier Foot & Ankle Associates can help you recover, almost always by using treatments that are painless and either noninvasive or minimally invasive.