Dealing with Tendon Injuries (During the Age of COVID-19)
There’s never a good time to suffer a tendon injury. That’s a given. Right now, however, may be one of the worst. Sure, you’re probably not in the middle of an athletic season or training for a marathon, since COVID-19 has shut down just about every kind of organized athletic event. But an injury in the middle of a pandemic just means you’re even more stuck at home. Worse, you might hesitate over whether it’s really the right time to venture out and seek help from a foot and ankle specialist. That can lead to delays or mistakes in treatment, and potentially even long-term consequences. In this blog, we’ll talk about some of the things you may be able to do at home to help you deal with a tendon injury. But first, we need to make an important point: Pain is always an emergency. If you’ve been injured, please call us right away. We can help you, and it’s possible you may not even have to leave your home.
A Closer Look at Tendon Injuries of the Feet and AnklesTendons are tough yet soft connective tissues that attach muscles to bones, so that when those muscles extend and contract they move the appropriate part of your body. They tend to be weakest right near the point where they attach or insert into the bone, so that’s where injuries usually happen. The most common tendon-related issue our patients experience is Achilles tendinitis. This refers to inflammation, or sometimes degeneration or even partial tearing, of the tendon fibers in the “heel cord” at the back end of your foot and ankle. Most of the time, the condition presents itself as a dull ache at the back of the leg, just above the heel—at least at first. The longer your live with Achilles tendinitis, the more likely that ache will get worse and worse, often spiking after a period of activity (running or climbing stairs, for example). Other common symptoms include mild swelling, tenderness, and stiffness and pain when moving the foot up or down. A more serious tendon injury would be an Achilles rupture. Here, the tendon tears completely, usually in a single traumatic incident. It’s intensely painful, and may even be accompanied by a “popping” sound. Although not as common, many other tendons in the foot and ankle become injured. This includes extensor tendinitis (top of the foot), posterior tibial tendinitis (inner side of the foot), peroneal tendonitis (outer side of the foot), and others. In each case, the basic symptoms (aching pain, tenderness, swelling) are broadly the same, just in a different area. Tendon injuries are especially common in active adults, from around age 30 to age 50 or so. That’s the “sweet spot” where many people remain highly physically active, but their tendons may have lost some flexibility and durability with age. Too much stress and strain, either all at once or spread out over time, can lead to problems.
Treating Tendon Problems at HomeFortunately, many mild-to-moderate cases of tendinitis can be resolved with home care. We’re sure that’s something you’re happy to hear, especially at a time like this! The best thing you can do when you first feel a dull ache and you suspect a mild case of tendinitis is to follow the RICE protocol:
- Rest. Discontinue any vigorous or high-impact exercises or activities for several days. Try to stay off your feet as much as you can.
- Ice. Apply an ice pack to the painful area 3-4 times per day, up to 15-20 minutes at a time. Always put a protective layer like a thin towel around the ice pack to protect your skin.
- Compression. If you have anything like an ACE wrap or other compression bandages or braces, use them.
- Elevation. Put your foot up as often as you can when you sit or lie down. Raising it above heart level is especially effective to help control swelling.