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Insertional achilles tendinopathy

The Achilles tendon is the combination of tendons of the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles and connects these muscles to the back of the heel. Insertional Achilles tendinopathy (IAT) is a painful acute or chronic disorder of the Achilles tendon at its insertion onto the calcaneus. Several terms have been used to describe this condition including tendinosis, tendinitis and peritendinitis.

Pathology

However, histologic examination of biopsy specimens from patients undergoing surgery for chronic symptoms has shown that chronic insertional achilles tendinopathy is associated with degenerative changes in the tendon. Accordingly, the disease is better characterized as tendinopathy than tendinitis or tendinosis.

Diagnosis is based on the clinical features of the disease, with the location of the pain as an important discriminating factor. The spot of maximum pain in IAT is located at the tendon-bone junction, whereas in the case of noninsertional Achilles tendinopathy, the spot of maximum pain is 2 to 6 cm proximal to the insertion. Symptoms can be exacerbated by running on hard surfaces and climbing stairs. Diagnostic imaging should be considered to rule out other causes of Achilles tendon pain and heel pain, or to establish the diagnosis of IAT when in doubt.

 

Insertional achilles tendinopathy

The etiology of IAT is likely multifactorial and may include advanced age, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, hyperpronation and steroid use, to mention only a few.

Runners comprise the largest group of patients with chronic pain in the Achilles tendon. The annual incidence of insertional achilles tendinopathy among athletes is approximately 8%. However, individuals of all activity levels and all ages present with similar complaints.

Particularly in athletes the onset of IAT may also be influenced by poor training habits including excessive training, training on hard or sloping surfaces, and abrupt changes in scheduling.

It has been hypothesized that healing of injuries of the Achilles tendon as a result of overuse involves the penetration of small blood vessels into the tendon in order to increase healing by providing improved blood flow. However, these small blood vessels are accompanied by small nerve fibers with high concentrations of nociceptive substances including glutamate, substance P, and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). These small nerve fibers are considered the cause of pain in chronic insertional achilles tendinopathy.

The treatment of insertional achilles tendinopathy should start with conservative treatment modalities including rest, icing, physiotherapy, stretching (eccentric loading), exercises, orthoses, heel lifts and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In certain cases, braces and immobilization with a cast or a pneumatic walking boot may improve the situation.

Patients not responding to conservative treatment for six months shall then undergo radial shock wave therapy for insertional achilles tendinopathy treatment.

Surgery should be considered for recalcitrant cases of insertional achilles tendinopathy, with different surgical strategies described in the literature. Prevention of recurrence should focus on appropriate exercise habits, wearing low-heeled shoes and eccentric strengthening exercises.

 

Side effects of Radial Shock Wave Therapy (RSWT®) using the Swiss DolorClast®

When performed properly, RSWT® with the Swiss DolorClast® has only minimal risks. Typical device-related nonserious adverse events are:

  • Pain and discomfort during and after treatment (anesthesia is not necessary)
  • Reddening of the skin
  • Petechia
  • Swelling and numbness of the skin over the treatment area
  • These device-related nonserious adverse events usually disappear within 36h after the treatment.

 

Treatment Procedure

Palpate

Locate the area of pain through palpation and biofeedback.

Mark

Mark the area of pain.

Apply gel

Apply coupling gel to transmit shock waves to the tissue.

Apply shock waves

Deliver Radial or Focused Shock Waves to the area of pain while keeping the applicator firmly in place on the skin.

Clinical proof

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