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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Corbin D.C

Understanding Achilles Tendinopathy: An Evidence-Based Guide

Understanding Achilles Tendinopathy: An Evidence-Based Guide

Achilles tendinopathy is a common musculoskeletal condition affecting the Achilles tendon, the largest tendon in the body. This condition encompasses a range of tendon disorders, including tendinitis and tendinosis, characterized by pain, swelling, and impaired function. This guide delves into the evidence-based understanding of Achilles tendinopathy, covering its signs and symptoms, causes, risk factors, types, treatment options, and self-care methods. It aims to provide a comprehensive overview for both patients and healthcare professionals.

Signs and Symptoms

Achilles tendinopathy presents with several characteristic signs and symptoms, including:

- Pain in the Achilles tendon area, which may worsen with activity

- Stiffness** in the tendon, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity

- Swelling or thickening** of the tendon

- Tenderness** to touch along the tendon or at its attachment to the heel bone

- Reduced strength and range of motion** in the affected ankle

Causes and Risk Factors

A woman walking upstairs suffering from Achilles tendinopathy

Achilles tendinopathy results from a combination of internal and external factors that contribute to the degeneration and inflammation of the tendon. Key contributors include:

- Overuse and repetitive strain: Activities that place repetitive or excessive load on the Achilles tendon, such as running, jumping, or sudden increases in exercise intensity, can lead to tendinopathy.

- Age: The incidence of Achilles tendinopathy increases with age, particularly among individuals over 30, as tendons lose elasticity and become more susceptible to injury.

- Sex: Males are more frequently affected than females, possibly due to differences in physical activity levels or biomechanics.

- Biomechanical factors: Abnormal foot biomechanics, such as overpronation or supination, can increase strain on the Achilles tendon.

- Medical conditions: Conditions like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension are associated with an increased risk of tendinopathy.

- Medications: Certain medications, such as fluoroquinolone antibiotics, have been linked to an increased risk of tendon disorders.

Types of Achilles Tendinopathy

Achilles tendinopathy can be classified into two main types based on the location of the symptoms:

- Non-insertional Achilles tendinopathy: This affects the middle portion of the tendon, typically 2 to 6 cm above the heel bone, and is more common in younger, active individuals.

- Insertional Achilles tendinopathy: This occurs at the point where the tendon attaches to the heel bone and can affect individuals regardless of their activity level.

Treatment and Management

A chiropractor working on an ankle joint for Achilles tendinopathy

  • Medical Treatments

  • Physical therapy: Tailored exercises aimed at stretching and strengthening the calf muscles and Achilles tendon can improve flexibility and reduce pain.

  • Medications**: NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may be used for short-term pain relief, although their effectiveness in treating tendinopathy is debated.

  • Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT)**: This non-invasive treatment uses shock waves to stimulate healing in the tendon.

  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections**: Though evidence is mixed, PRP injections may promote healing in some patients.

Surgical and Other Procedures

Surgery may be considered for cases that do not respond to conservative treatment, focusing on removing degenerated tissue and repairing the tendon. Minimally invasive techniques have improved recovery times and outcomes.

Self-Care Methods

- Rest and ice: Initial treatment should include rest from aggravating activities and ice application to reduce inflammation.

- Eccentric exercises: These involve lengthening the Achilles tendon under load and have been shown to be effective in managing tendinopathy.

- Proper footwear: Shoes that provide adequate cushioning and support can reduce strain on the tendon.

- Gradual return to activity: Increasing activity levels slowly helps avoid overloading the tendon.

Who Is Most Affected?

Achilles tendinopathy most commonly affects athletes, particularly runners, but it can also impact less active individuals. Age, sex, biomechanical factors, and certain health conditions play a role in the risk of developing this condition.


Achilles tendinopathy is a complex condition requiring a multifaceted approach to treatment. Understanding the evidence-based principles behind its management can help patients and healthcare providers develop effective strategies for relief and recovery. Early intervention, tailored treatment plans, and adherence to self-care practices are key to overcoming this challenging condition.


1. Journal Articles and Reviews in Peer-Reviewed Medical Journals

- Alfredson, H., & Cook, J. (2007). A treatment algorithm for managing Achilles tendinopathy: new treatment options. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(4), 211-216. This article offers a comprehensive treatment algorithm and discusses new treatment options based on scientific evidence.

- Silbernagel, K. G., Thomeé, R., Eriksson, B. I., & Karlsson, J. (2007). Continued sports activity, using a pain-monitoring model, during rehabilitation in patients with Achilles tendinopathy: a randomized controlled study. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(6), 897-906. This study provides evidence on the effectiveness of continued sports activity with a pain-monitoring model during rehabilitation.

2. Clinical Practice Guidelines and Consensus Statements

- Scott, A., Docking, S., Vicenzino, B., Alfredson, H., Murphy, R. J., Carr, A. J., ... & Zwerver, J. (2015). Sports and exercise-related tendinopathies: a review of selected topical issues by participants of the second International Scientific Tendinopathy Symposium (ISTS) Vancouver 2012. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(12), 731-739. This document summarizes the discussions and consensus from a significant international symposium on tendinopathy.

3. Books and Book Chapters

- Maffulli, N., & Almekinders, L. C. (Eds.). (2003). The Achilles tendon. Springer. This book provides a detailed overview of the Achilles tendon, covering everything from basic science to clinical management.

- Khan, K. M., & Scott, A. (2009). Mechanotherapy: how physical therapists’ prescription of exercise promotes tissue repair. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(4), 247-252. Though not solely about Achilles tendinopathy, this book chapter discusses the broader concept of mechanotherapy, which is relevant for understanding tendon healing.

4. Professional Society Guidelines

- The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine often publish guidelines and position stands that include recommendations for the management of tendinopathies, including those affecting the Achilles tendon.

5. Online Medical and Research Databases

- PubMed, Google Scholar, and Cochrane Library are invaluable resources for finding up-to-date research articles, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses on Achilles tendinopathy.

6. Patient Information Sites from Reputable Health Organizations

- Mayo Clinic (, WebMD (, and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons ( provide reliable patient education material on Achilles tendinopathy, including symptoms, causes, treatments, and prevention tips.


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