The foot is one of the most common places where people feel pain and suffer from injuries, as it carries the whole weight of the body, and in some sports it is under huge stress. Although not lethal, foot injuries incapacitate athletes for a long time and can have a damaging effect on their career. One of the typical and painful conditions in the foot is called foot tendonitis. In this article we are going to explain what it is, what types there are, the causes of it, its symptoms and some tips regarding how we can prevent it or treat it after it has occurred.
Tendonitis, also known as tendinitis, is an inflammatory condition which involves the tendons. We call tendons the soft but strong and flexible tissue “cords” that connect our muscles to our bones. Tendons can become injured when overused in long and repetitive activities that irritate them, such as running, or due to overly sharp and sudden movements in activities such as jumping. Accompanying conditions are the use of inappropriate shoes, exercising on a hard surface and improper or insufficient warm-up. After a tendon injury, an inflammation develops in the tendon, and this inflammation is called tendonitis. This condition may occur in body parts such as elbows, ankles, knees, wrists, fingers, thighs and feet. Foot tendonitis can occur in various parts of the foot – the heel, the inner or outer side, the top, front or back side. It is important to note that tendonitis and tendinosis are not one and the same condition. Both of them describe a problem with tendons and could be caused by overuse, but tendonitis implies an ongoing tendon inflammation, whereas tendinosis means the tendon is enlarged and thickened/swelled. These conditions require different treatment.
What are the symptoms of foot tendonitis?
A symptom is a subjective feeling observed by a patient that something in the body is not normally functioning. The symptoms of foot tendonitis usually occur where the tendon attaches to the bone and depend on the exact location, as well as on the stage of development of the tendonitis and its seriousness. The most common symptoms of foot tendonitis are:
Typically, pain tells us that there is a problem. It is the first sign that something is not functioning how it is supposed to be. Usually, when the pain we feel is a symptom of foot tendonitis, it gets worse when the affected part of the body is moved. It could be a sharp and/or burning sensation, and it is most often felt at the exact area of the affected tendon and after a while it spreads around. Foot tendonitis pain often comes and goes, it is sharper when initially felt, then it goes away (settles), and after a while comes back in an even harsher way.
The foot may become stiff from tendonitis, both in the foot and in the ankle. This stiffness is typically worse in the morning and it is accompanied by pain. Movement is either restricted or even impossible, especially if there is a crack in the structure of the tendon.
- Swelling/lump around the affected area (with or without heat and/or redness)
For a few weeks you may experience minor tendonitis symptoms but after a while there is a chance that you might notice a soft lump forming along the tendon. The spot is usually very sensitive to touch. The swelling and formation of a lump is typical for conditions such as Achilles Tendonitis.
- A sensation of crackling/grating when moving the tendon
This is an unpleasant sensation which is usually experienced during examination.
What are the causes of foot tendonitis?
The main causes of foot tendonitis include:
Tendonitis could easily develop after any type of foot injury or for example from continuous rubbing on the tendon, so comfortable shoes are a must.
- Excessive use of the tendons
Over-loading or over-stretching the tendons could lead to tendonitis. The constant repeating of one and the same movement causes tendon irritation so it is not surprising that in the majority of cases this condition is typical for people whose job or hobby involves repetitive movements.
- Problematic foot structure
Foot problems could lead to more foot problems… Having an abnormal foot structure such a flat foot or high arch results in the overstressing of your feet and thus to tendons being more easily irritated.
- Some medical conditions
Having a health problem could lead to tendonitis. Inflammation of the tendons could be caused by conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Some risk factors for tendonitis
- Jobs involving repetitive movements and awkward positions
- Sports involving repetitive movements – running, basketball, tennis, etc.
- Old age – tendons get less flexible with the years piling
Types of foot tendonitis
- Posterior Tibial Tendonitis – involves the posterior tibial tendon which is situated along the inside of the foot and ankle. The pain is felt on the inner side of the foot.
- Anterior Tibial Tendonitis – involves the anterior tibial tendon which is responsible for the movement of the front part of the foot.
- Peroneal Tendonitis – involves the peroneal tendons on the back and outer side of the foot and ankle. In peroneal tendonitis the tendons are inflamed, while in peroneal tendinosis the tendons are enlarged and thickened.
- Extensor Tendonitis – involves the extensor tendons which are responsible for pulling the toes up (top of the foot). Achilles Tendonitis – one of the most common types. Involves the Achilles tendon which joins together the calf muscles and the heel.
How can we prevent foot tendonitis from occurring?
There are many things one can do to prevent foot tendonitis or at least lower the chances of developing it. Here are some of them:
- First and foremost, you need to know that stretching (warming up) and cooling down are of vital importance for a safe workout. Also, do not go beyond your limits. Stop if you feel some kind of pain. Make sure you take breaks when you need to. Do not make more repetitions than you are supposed to.
- Using the right equipment/footwear is also of great significance and can prevent injuries
- Make sure to contact a specialist to improve your technique if you have doubts. It is always a good idea to hear a professional opinion.
How can we treat foot tendonitis after it has developed?
We may have taken all the necessary precautions but not have been able to prevent foot tendonitis. We will need to take care of ourselves so that the inflammation does not spread.
- First and foremost, it is of huge importance to let your foot rest. Thus, you may prevent further complications and ensure recovery. At times, a bandage is enough, but in more severe cases you need to rest in plaster. Make sure to contact your doctor for the best treatment.
- Use ice. Wrap some ice in a towel and use it on the swollen part of your foot. Some sources also suggest using a warm towel.
- Check with your doctor for the most efficient anti-inflammatory pain relievers.
- Consider physical therapy for strengthening the tendons. This may involve massages and/or exercise.
- If some time has passed and the pain is still strong, you may need to undergo surgery. Of course, you should first consult your GP and keep in mind that you should wait for almost a year before considering surgical treatment.
Foot tendonitis could incapacitate us for a long time, so we should carefully treat this condition. It is always best to try to avoid pain and inflammation by taking precautions but sometimes we are not able to do it. We should not neglect the signals our body is sending us and be sure to take measures to avoid complications.