Achilles tendinopathy

What is Achilles tendinopathy?

Achilles tendinopathy is caused by damage or inflammation in the tendon that runs from the calf in the lower leg, down the back of the ankle to the bone in the heel.

The main symptoms are:

  • pain in the Achilles tendon which worsens after activity
  • difficulty moving the foot up and down
  • a grating sensation in the area
  • swelling, redness or heat around the tendon
  • a lump on the tendon.

It's commonly caused by a tear or over-use of the Achilles tendon. It can affect anyone doing sports involving lots of running or jumping. People with very high or low arches in their feet can be prone to this problem, because this puts strain on the tendon.

It can also be a problem for people with ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and reactive arthritis.

How can I treat Achilles tendinopathy?

Achilles tendinopathy can often be treated without the need to see a healthcare professional. 

You should feel an improvement in the injury over the first few days of following some simple self-care tips.

While it's painful, paracetamol or a pain-relieving gel should help reduce your discomfort.

Over the first few days you are best to avoid hot baths, heat packs, ibuprofen, and drinking alcohol as they can affect healing.

These self-care tips, known as RICE therapy, should help improve healing:

  • Rest – try to avoid putting weight on the injury. Do not exercise, instead try gently moving it from time to time to stop the area getting stiff.
  • Ice – put an ice pack or frozen vegetables, covered in a damp cloth, on it for 20 minutes every 2–3 hours.
  • Compression – wrap a bandage around the painful area. It should be tight enough to support it, but not so tight that it restricts the blood flow.
  • Elevate your foot to reduce swelling.

You can help reduce swelling and increase blood flow by gently massaging the painful area from time to time.

It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months for Achilles tendinopathy to fully recover.

However, speak to your doctor or a healthcare professional if:

  • you heard a popping or a snapping sound before the pain began
  • you are in severe pain that doesn't improve over the first two days
  • it does not improve much over two weeks
  • the pain keeps coming and going over a long period of time.

You can find exercises to relieve Achilles tendinopathy, as well as other common causes of foot and ankle pain, on our foot and ankle pain page.