Achilles tendonitis

Living with it for 15 months and finally overcoming it

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02/02/2012 at 21:55

Hi.

I appreciate there are other threads on this most dreaded of running injuries but my particular experiences - especially the length of time I had this injury - I feel warrant a thread of their own.  In particular I want to help or encourage other runners who are facing long term AT, especially if you're wondering how on earth much longer have you got to put up with it and what's the best way to help recovery.

I haven't done everything right but I have learned a lot.

My idea was to document my history and thoughts here as a kind of blog.  With the benefit of hindsight I can try to make it informative and constructive. It many take several days to set everything out - there may be quite a few posts!

In the meantime if you want to chip in, feel free.  I may respond to your points straight away or more likely wait until the end.  I may cover your point in later post!

So, to begin ..

02/02/2012 at 22:14

My background is mainly in marathons and ultras.  Over the last few years I have done more and more offroad running, and virtually none of my training is on tarmac roads.  I've been running about 14 years and apart from a catalogue of injuries, mainly minor, when I first started I had been largely injury-free for many years.

So finishing the Snowdonia marathon Oct 2010 with pain and swelling at the back of the left ankle was an unusual experience.  What didn't help was the next day I went for a walk in the mountains (covering three 3000-ers) by the end of which my ankle was in severe pain.

My usual philosophy with any injury was complete rest, so with this I rested for 16 days - it seemed to need it -  before feeling well enough to go out on a short, but very hilly and stony climb and descent of my local hill (1500').  I tore down the hill at full speed as was becoming my wont.  Although OK on the run, later in the evening the ankle swelled up like a balloon with incredible pain.  I could scarcely walk or drive.

Icing it was useless. Immersing it in a bucket of cold water was better but the achilles tendon area stayed swollen and spongy, extremely sore to touch.  Flexing the foot was difficult (especially away from you as you would do when standing on tip-toes).

02/02/2012 at 22:22

Over the next few weeks the area stayed spongy and walking was gradually getting harder and harder - I couldn't do the proper gait cycle with the foot and limped badly.  Running was out of the question.  Trying to stand on tip toe (aside from the pain of trying) was impossible - I didn't seem to have a muscle that did that movement.

What seemed to make it worse was long periods of inactivity - I spend a lot of time either at  a PC or driving.  Trying to walk after sitting down for a long time was pitiful to watch.  At work it got to the point where I had psyche myself up to walk the 50m to a storeroom.

I was trying to reduce the swelling by long sessions with the bucket of cold water.

Clearly something had to be done, but what?

02/02/2012 at 22:33

T Rex - Thanks for the post. I will follow the thread with interest

Edited: 02/02/2012 at 22:40
02/02/2012 at 22:37

Doing some research I soon discovered it was achilles tendonitis.  The tendon wasn't ruptured since I would be in more pain, walking would be virtually impossible, and I would have known exactly when it happened - there would have been an episode of acute pain.  But this was something that came on more slowly, during that marathon and afterwards.

About early Dec 2010 - so after about 5-6 weeks -  I had the recommendation from a friend of a sports injury therapist in my area.  I made an appointment and went.  First time ever in my running career that I was seeking sports-injury-related professional help.

What I learned from her  - I won't divulge her name on a public forum - on that first appointment, and from all the sessions I had with her over the next 12 (yes, twelve?!) months has been vital and key to my recovery.

I'm not sure there are any other ways by which chronic achilles tendonitis can be made to heal except for a regular programme of deep tissue manipulation from a specialist - such as I endured week in, week out all that time.  Well, there is one other way I found out about but more on that later.

02/02/2012 at 22:42

Paco thanks for that.  Read on! 

I would strongly urge not taking the surgical route, unless you know the tendon has ruptured or come away from the heel bone.

02/02/2012 at 22:58

I am not medically trained so the description that follows may not be absolutely accurate and may be cringe inducing to those that are.

The achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body which conects the muscles of the heel bone to the lower calf.  It is flexible but only to a certain extent - it relies on the flexibility of the attached muscles - and has little or no blood supply to it, hence why it takes so long to heal.

The -itis is when the outer covering of the tendon become inflamed because it has been aggravated by some cause.  (I'll try to look at causes at some point.)

The achilles tendon moves within a sheaf of muscles surrounding it, so when the tendon is inflamed this movement becomes very restricted and left to its own devices all sorts of scar tissue can build up which may permanently restrict the tendon's movement.  Unless you can perhaps do something with super-stretching the calf muscles your running career could be in danger.  Aside from the almost permanent, if usually low-grade, pain you have to put up with.

02/02/2012 at 23:18

This was where my sports injury therapist (SIT) came in.

So, after a full examination, and about six weeks after the injury and with my upper ankle about twice the size it used to be normally, she set to work with deep tissue manipulation. On each occasion firstly of the calf, which had also become very tight (too sore to stretch) and then into the area of the tendon itself.  Mainly to both sides of the tendon before rounding off with a full frontal assault on the ridge of the tendon itself.

The idea of this is to break down all the scar tissue - she called it "crystals" - that was causing muscle and tendon fibres to fuse together.  Separating out the fibres again, with the eventual aim of freeing the tendon completely.

I have to be quite frank here.  Although I absolutely recommend deep tissue manipulation - it bears no resemblance to therapeutic massage.  During the sessions with my SIT I can honestly say I had to endure the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life (51 years).  And this voluntarily!!

There were times I was gripping the couch so hard I thought it would actually break and there were huge dents in my biceps!  Sometimes I would be moaning and banging my head up and down on the couch.  Sometimes loud yelling.  Always heavy and laboured breathing. 

But in 12 months only once did I have to ask her to stop because I thought I was actually going to pass out.

She never bruised me once, nor even made the treatment area red.

02/02/2012 at 23:28

What made this so painful of course, especially during the first few months, was that the area was so swollen with sponginess and water, or whatever it is that's in there, making it very difficult to isolate muscles and tendons. And pressing swellings hard does hurt.

As time went on and the swelling reduced, the sessions became more effective and less painful, although she had the tendency then to rack up the intensity because she could feel herself getting somewhere!

At first I could only put up with one of these sessions a week - typically I would have appointments 6-8 days apart.  It took several days for the additional soreness of those sessions to subside.  Later on I was able to stomach two a week.  Later still I tailed them off until only one a month, finishing them altogether in Dec 2011, a year after I'd started them.  The SIT didn't think any further treatment would be beneficial, or necessary.

02/02/2012 at 23:40

That'll do for now.

To come:

  • what training and racing I was able to do during 2011 (this might surprise you)
  • other treatment I investigated and other advice I received - including from just the one visit to my GP
  • self help ideas and things to avoid during recovery
  • causes
  • preventive measures
  • etc

Some of what I have to say might be considered as unconventional.  So many emphasise rest, rest, and more rest.  I want to suggest an alternative approach.

See you later.

03/02/2012 at 12:39
Loving reading this - I've been nursing AT issues since August last year, looking forward to reading more.
03/02/2012 at 14:26

Hi T Rex

Great story.

but, I bet you'll break down...sorry

03/02/2012 at 17:34
Looking forward to more detail, following with interest as have intermittent AT issues which I kind of manage in my own haphazard way! ... including excrutiating self massage on the afflicted areas when it starts to creep up on me which does seem to help, along with calf massage.
03/02/2012 at 20:02

Waiting for the next post ...... I'm sure I'm not alone!!  I'm at that point - six months in and wondering how much longer I have got to put up with it before the pain goes and I can start running again.

03/02/2012 at 20:33

Some kindred spirits here .

Paco - you seem to have lost most of your post, but I did read it all.

Hard to know how to document 15 months worth of stuff in a sensible order but I'll keep going ...

03/02/2012 at 21:01

The sports injury therapist (SIT) I was seeing Dec 10 - Dec 11had had experience with AT but not on someone who ran longer distances and had never come across an example of the condition as stubborn as mine.  Most people's AT cleared up after only about six weeks!  And most of the threads on this forum seem to be about AT seem to be this mild version

But, apart from one two-week period about three months into the treatment when it looked as if we were going backwards and the injury was getting worse again (morale was low at that point for both of us), I can say that with each visit there was improvement afterwards, if sometimes only very small. 

At the beginning of treatment, although I felt good straight afterwards with the tendon really loosened up, the pain from the experience lasted several days.  It was some time before I was physically capable of having two sessions a week.

The sessions gradually took effect and the swelling started to disperse.  I'm afraid this was only after several months.  With less swelling the SIT was able to get much deeper and manipulate tendon tissue and finally get it back to looking like normal.

Because I am back to normal.  The reason I have started posting now was because in my last long run which was yesterday, for the first time I could feel nothing wrong with the achilles either during or after the run.  In fact I had forgotten I'd had the injury!!  What a great feeling.

03/02/2012 at 21:10

That's the treatment aspect.

A big mistake I made was not seeking it much sooner after doing the injury.  Because I left it a long time (about six weeks) all sorts of tightening and fusing of fibres had taken place and additional swelling.

I've always been averse to professional help, prefering to "listen to my body", etc but this episode has re-educated me!  Of course it was expensive as well, but I judge it worth it.

03/02/2012 at 21:11
Great read, look forward to the rest!!!
03/02/2012 at 21:13
cragchick - I doubt you'd have the courage to massage yourself hard enough to be really effective, but if you are special forces or Antarctic explorer calibre you might be able to!  Think Ranulph Fiennes sawing his own frostbitten finger tips off!
03/02/2012 at 21:27

As well as the 30-40 minute sessions on the couch, I was given advice on things to do at home.  This consisted mainly of:

if the achilles is swollen, ice it.  I have found the easiest way of doing this is to soak the whole foot and ankle in a bucket of cold water for about 15 minutes.  Put ice in as well if you like.  I didn't.

if the achilles is not so swollen, keep it warm and stretched.  The SIT emphasised frequent stretching using exercises similar to those used to stretch the calf.  This is fine because the calf is tight as well.  The best exercise is putting the balls of your feet up a wall and gradually leaning towards it pivoting on your heel, and holding it for about 30s.  This is a very powerful stretch and should be done very gently.  Do not do it if you suspect the tendon is partially (or fully) torn.  Incidentally you need to stretch both legs to ensure no imbalances.

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