One of the most common causes of foot or ankle pain is tendonitis. The muscles of your leg, foot, and ankle are anchored to the bone by the tendons, which are strong, cord-like structures. Tendonitis is inflammation surrounding a tendon. You will have pain with activity and it usually goes away with rest, only to return again.
The most common types of foot and ankle tendonitis are Achilles tendinitis, posterior tibial tendonitis, peroneal tendinosis, flexor tendonitis, and extensor tendonitis.
Self-care measures will usually heal these injuries over the course of a few weeks. Learn more about what causes them, when to see your doctor, and how to prevent foot and ankle tendonitis.
- Overuse: The most common cause of tendonitis is overuse, which means a tendon is overly stretched and possibly experiencing a small degree of pulling apart or tearing. This occurs when there is an increase in activity, which can include anything from walking to participating in competitive sports.
- Abnormal foot structure: Problems such as flat feet or high arches can create muscular imbalances that put stress on one or more tendons.
- Trauma: A foot or ankle injury can cause tendonitis. This can occur with a sudden, powerful motion like jumping. Another form of trauma is chronic rubbing against a shoe, which most often occurs at the top of the foot or heel.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions that cause general inflammation can lead to tendonitis. Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and spondyloarthropathy can cause Achilles tendonitis or posterior tibial tendonitis.
The characteristic symptoms of tendonitis include pain and, occasionally, swelling during activity or with stretching of the affected tendon. The pain is usually relieved by rest, although the affected tendon may be painful to the touch.
Often, the pain will lessen but then return as you keep walking or doing other activities. You may notice swelling, although this isn’t usually an immediate symptom. Often, your foot and ankle will become stiff when you have tendonitis.
When tendonitis symptoms occur, the first thing to do is R.I.C.E, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Decrease activity as much as possible.
- Apply ice or cold compresses for 20 minutes at a time.
- Compression can mean applying an ACE wrap or other store-bought ankle support if necessary.
- Anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen can also be taken to help decrease pain and swelling.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If pain and swelling worsen, are not relieved with home care, or occur while at rest, it is best to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
If you frequently experience tendonitis symptoms, a podiatric evaluation can help identify foot abnormalities that may be causing them. Shoe recommendations, arch supports or orthotics, and prescription braces are possible treatments options to
manage and prevent tendonitis.
The general principle for treating foot and ankle tendonitis is to give the injury rest so the body can heal it. This takes time, usually weeks to months. Your doctor may give you a walking boot to keep your foot and ankle immobilized so you aren’t using it, or you may be directed to have no weight bearing on the affected foot.
You are likely to be prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Also, you may be referred to physical therapy to learn stretching and strengthening exercises that will help reduce the stress on the affected tendon.
One of the best ways to prevent tendonitis is to do foot and ankle stretching exercises before activity. Tight muscles put extra strain on your tendons. You also should wear appropriate shoes and avoid worn-out athletic shoes. When you start a new activity or sport, increase your time and intensity gradually.