Symptoms A-Z

Swollen Achilles Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand swollen achilles symptoms, including 3 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 3 Possible Swollen Achilles Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Swollen Achilles Symptoms

The Achilles tendon connects the two large muscles of the calf to the back of the heel. It is the thickest and strongest tendon in the body rightfully so, because it is required to do the highly repetitive work of raising the foot for walking, running, and other movements. However, this also leaves the Achilles vulnerable to injury, especially overuse injury [1-3].

A swollen Achilles tendon might also be called Achilles tendinitis, Achilles tendinosis, Achilles tendinopathy, Achilles tenosynovitis, heel cord tear, calcaneal tendon tear, or Achilles tendon tear.

Characteristics

Common characteristics of a swollen Achilles can be described by the following [4,5].

  • Damage: The fibers of the tendon are repeatedly undergoing small tears and fraying from overuse, and never have a chance to heal.
  • Acute form: This happens suddenly, with pain and difficulty walking, and then shows up as a soft swelling on and around the tendon.
  • Chronic form: The injury eventually becomes a hardened, rubbery enlargement at the back of the ankle.
  • Pain: The tendon will hurtwhen you try to walk or run, or when the tendon is pressed or squeezed.
  • Inflammation: The tendon will feel very warm to the touch.

Duration

The duration of your swollen Achilles can vary [2].

  • Acute form: This happens suddenly, with immediate symptoms of pain and loss of use.
  • Chronic form: This happens over time, with gradual onset of pain and difficulty moving.

Who is most often affected?

People most likely to experience a swollen Achilles include:

  • Men over the age of about 35, especially if playing amateur sports, are vulnerable.
  • Being overweight, lacking flexibility, and having weak calf muscles are all risk factors.
  • People with diabetes.

When is it most likely to occur?

Your Achilles is most likely to become irritated and swell:

  • During strenuous exercise: Acute injury often occurs when running uphill or running with sudden changes of direction, especially if the person has been overtraining for weeks or months beforehand.
  • After resting: In the chronic form, there is often pain and stiffness on getting up in the morning.

Is it serious?

A swollen Achilles can vary in severity depending on the cause or extent of the injury, if applicable.

  • Not serious: A mild strain can usually be treated with ice, rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and possibly physical therapy.
  • Moderately serious: A chronic condition should be seen by a medical provider and/or a physical therapist, who can determine a course of treatment and therapy.
  • Serious: An acute rupture can be very painfuland cause permanent damage to the tendon, and should be seen by a medical provider right away.

Swollen Achilles Causes

Many conditions can cause the symptom of a swollen Achilles tendon. We've listed several different causes here, in approximate order from most to least common:

Chronic overuse injury

Pain and swelling come on gradually until there is a hard, rubbery enlargement at the back of the ankle. This can be due to:

  • Overtraining: This means running too far and too hard on a regular basis, without allowing enough time for the tendons and muscles to recover and heal the damage.
  • Uphill running: This puts a greater strain on the Achilles tendons.
  • Improper footwear: Having ill-fitting or unsupportive shoes for your activities of choice can be damaging in many ways.

Acute rupture of the Achilles tendon

A rupture of the Achilles tendon may be either partial or complete and usually happens during running or some other kind of exercise. The pain comes on suddenly, with immediate difficulty walking.

Rare and unusual causes

Cerebrotendinous Xanthomatosisis a hereditary disorder of improper cholesterol metabolism [6]. One of the symptoms is painfully swollen Achilles tendons in both legs, with difficulty walking. This condition should be treated with medication, not surgery.

We've listed some specific conditions that can cause a swollen Achilles tendon, along with how to identify each of them:

3 Possible Swollen Achilles Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced swollen achilles. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Achilles tendonitis

The Achilles tendon connects the back of the heel to the muscles of the calves. Achilles tendonitis can be an acute or chronic condition. The term tendonitis implies inflammatory cells in the region of the tendon. While this may be true in acute cases of tendon overuse or tendon ...

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Achilles tendon rupture

The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Together, they help push the heel off the ground and let a person go up on their toes. If the Achilles tendon stretches too far, it can tear or rupture.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: achilles tendon pain, constant foot pain, sports injury, recent ankle injury, swollen achilles

Symptoms that always occur with achilles tendon rupture: achilles tendon pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Ankylosing spondylitis

"Ankylosing" means a joint has become stiffened and fixed in one position due to injury or disease. "Spondylitis" means inflammation in the joints of the spine. In ankylosing spondylitis, inflammation has damaged the vertebrae of the low back and caused a form of arthrit...

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Swollen Achilles Treatments and Relief

As long as your pain is manageable and you do not believe your Achilles has been severely damaged, treatment can begin at home [7]. However, you should also consult your physician if your pain worsens or persists.

At-home treatments

At-home remedies that may help soothe your swollen Achilles include:

  • Daily stretching
  • Braces and supports
  • Change up your routine: Rotate different forms of exercise so that you are not doing the same thing every day. Walking and swimming are especially helpful since they are low-impact and put less stress on the body.
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack or cold pack to the tendon a few times a day, especially after exercising.

Medical treatments

Your physician can help you with the following to further treat your swollen Achilles.

  • Severe tendon pain: You should discuss pain that interferes with walking or other activities of daily living.
  • Additional treatments: This may include surgery, injections, or acupuncture.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can give you appropriate stretching and exercises, as well as other treatments that may help.
  • Podiatry referral: A foot specialist can arrange for custom-fitted shoe inserts.
  • Suspicion of cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis: The symptoms include painful, swollen Achilles tendons in both legs, as well as neurologic abnormalities such as seizures and impaired speech.

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 for the following

An acute Achilles tendon rupture is suspected. The symptoms will include a snapping or popping sound with sudden pain in the ankle and calf, along with great difficulty walking.

FAQs About Swollen Achilles

Here are some frequently asked questions about swollen achilles.

Should a chronic Achilles tendon injury be treated with heat or with cold?

A chronic injury is one which goes on for a long time with little improvement. Treatment with ice is most helpful when the tendon is first injured and at its most painful since cold reduces inflammation. After a few days, however, heat is more effective for reducing pain, increasing blood flow, and promoting healing.

What sort of braces or supports can help an Achilles tendon injury?

With a chronic injury, the proper brace can provide support and take some of the pressure off of the tendon. This will reduce pain and discomfort during exercise and activities of daily living. However, it is important to use the brace sparingly since constant bracing can cause weakness of the muscles and atrophy of the already-damaged tendon.

What kind of shoes can help an Achilles tendon injury?

Sports shoes with plenty of support and cushioning are best. Orthotics are inserts of foam and rubber, often custom made, that can help stabilize the position of the foot and take the strain off of the Achilles tendon. A podiatrist can advise you as to the best kind of shoe and orthotic for your particular case.

Are corticosteroid injections helpful for an Achilles tendon injury?

Corticosteroid medication such as cortisone is sometimes injected into a joint for relief of inflammation. However, such injections given directly into a tendon can cause weakening and even rupture (tearing) of the tendon. This is why corticosteroid injections are not recommended for a chronic Achilles tendon injury since this can cause it to become an acute injury [8,9].

Are there any alternative or experimental treatments available for an Achilles tendon injury?

Percutaneous repair means sutures are passed through only the skin and the tendon, instead of stitching the tendon inside an open surgical wound. This is effective and less risky. Platelet-rich plasma injections may be helpful. Massage can sometimes increase blood flow and break down scar tissue. You can discuss all of the above with your medical provider.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Achilles

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Where exactly is your foot swelling?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Are you having any difficulty walking?
  • How would you describe your walk?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Swollen Achilles Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced swollen achilles have also experienced:

  • 10% Achilles Tendon Pain
  • 4% Stiff Achilles Tendon
  • 3% Muscle Aches

People who have experienced swollen achilles were most often matched with:

  • 54% Achilles Tendon Rupture
  • 27% Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • 18% Achilles Tendonitis

People who have experienced swollen achilles had symptoms persist for:

  • 31% Less than a week
  • 26% Less than a day
  • 22% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Swollen Achilles Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Egger AC, Berkowitz MJ. Achilles Tendon Injuries. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. 2017;10(1):72-80. NCBI Link
  2. Warren RF, Rodeo SA. Chronic Achilles Tendon Injury: An Overview. HSS. Published June 1, 2011. HSS Link
  3. Alt W, Reule C, Hochwald H. Achilles Tendon Overuse Injuries: Risk Factors and Biomechanics. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2011;45:e2. BJSM Link
  4. Achilles Tendinitis. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. AOFAS Link
  5. Kadakia AR. Achilles Tendinitis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated June 2010. OrthoInfo Link
  6. Cerebrotendinous Xanthomatosis. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Published 2017. NORD Link
  7. Achilles Tendon Injuries. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link
  8. Kearney RS, Parsons N, Metcalfe D, Costa ML. Injection Treatment for Painful Achilles Tendons in Adults. Cochrane. Published May 26, 2015. Cochrane Link
  9. Newnham DM, Douglas JG, Legge JS, Friend JA. Achilles Tendon Rupture: An Underrated Complication of Corticosteroid Treatment. Thorax. 1991;46(11):853-854. NCBI Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.