Foot & Ankle Tendonitis

Foot and ankle tendonitis is a common cause of foot pain, occurring when there is inflammation or irritation of the tendons, usually due to overuse or injury. 

Foot and ankle tendonitis can affect any of the tendons in the foot resulting in conditions such as Achilles Tendonitis and Extensor Tendonitis

It usually takes two to three months to recover, but it can take much longer without the proper treatment. 

Here we will look at what happens to the tendons when they get damaged and the most common types of foot and ankle tendonitis including symptoms and treatment options.

What is Tendonitis?

Ankle tendonitis develops when there is inflammation in the tendons from overuse
Ankle tendonitis develops when there is inflammation in the tendons from overuse

Tendons are the strong, cord-like bands of connective tissue that link muscles to bone.  If a tendon is made to work too hard, for too long or in the wrong way, damage and tiny tears develop in the tendon.  This is accompanied by inflammation which is the tell-tale sign of the condition. 

The body’s normal response to an injury is to send extra red blood cells carrying the oxygen and nutrients required for healing and white cells to fight off possible infection.  Waste products such as inflammatory chemicals are then carried away.  All of this helps speed up healing but should only last for a few days.  If an area is repeatedly irritated, the process keeps going resulting in the continued inflammation described as tendonitis.

Common Causes

There are four main causes of foot and ankle tendonitis:

1)  Overuse:  It most commonly occurs when the tendon is repeatedly overloaded i.e. being asked to work too hard, or it is repeatedly over-stretched

2)  Injury: It can develop after any foot or ankle injury e.g. ligament sprain, or from repetitive friction on the tendon e.g. from a shoe rubbing

Flat feet can cause ankle tendonitis

3)  Abnormal Foot Structure: If your foot is an abnormal shape e.g. flat foot or high arches, it can put more stress on the tendons resulting in the condition

4)  Medical Conditions: Some inflammatory conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis can cause foot tendonitis

Symptoms of Foot Tendonitis

The symptoms of foot and ankle tendonitis will vary according to the location, severity and stage of the tendonitis.  The most common symptoms are:

1)  Pain

Pain is usually the first sign that there is a problem.  There tends to be a sharp and/or burning pain, usually localised to the area of the tendon at first but as the condition worsens, can spread wider.  Pain is usually worse with initial movement, settles down after a minute or so, but then returns as you do more. For example, your first few steps when you get out of bed will really hurt, but the pain will then ease up.  But as you are on your feet for longer, the pain will return.

2)  Swelling

It usually takes a while for swelling to develop with the condition.  After a few weeks of minor symptoms, you may notice a soft lump forming over the tendon, which is often tender to touch.  This is most common in Achilles Tendonitis.

3)  Stiffness

The foot and ankle often becomes stiff as a result of ankle tendonitis limiting the amount of pain-free movement.

Types of Foot and Ankle Tendonitis

Tendonitis can occur in a number of places around the foot.  The most common sites are:

Achilles tendonitis is a common problem

1)  Achilles Tendonitis

This causes heel and calf pain.  The Achilles tendon joins the two calf muscles to the heel.  Pain is usually felt when walking/running and can occur anywhere from the back of the heel up to the middle of the calf

2)  Posterior Tibial Tendonitis

This causes pain on the inner side of the foot.  The posterior tibial tendon runs along the inside of the foot and ankle.  Pain is usually felt when you start to push off through your foot

3)  Peroneal Tendonitis

Peroneal Tendonitis results in pain on the back and outer side of your ankle/foot.  The peroneal tendons run down the outer side of the ankle across the bottom of the foot.  Pain is usually felt when standing or pushing off through your foot

extensor tendonitis commonly causes pain on top of foot

4)  Extensor Tendonitis

This causes pain on the top of the foot.  The extensor tendons pull the toes up.  Pain is often worse when running.  This is one of the more rare types of ankle tendonitis.

5)  Anterior Tibial Tendonitis

This results in pain at the front of your foot.  The Anterior Tibial Tendon controls the movement at the front of your foot.  Pain is usually felt when coming down stairs or when walking/running on sloped surfaces e.g. hills.  Again, this is one of the less common places to get the condition.

Treatment Options

There are two aims of treatment for ankle tendonitis.  The first is to reduce the pain, swelling and dysfunction associated with the problem.  The second is to address any aggravating factors that can be avoided to prevent the problem from returning such as abnormal foot shapes or muscle weakness and tightness. 

With any type of ankle tendonitis, it is vital to rest the foot to prevent further damage and to allow recovery.  Any activity that increases pain should be avoided if possible.  PRICE principles should be followed (protect, rest, ice, compression and elevation) and anti-inflammatory medication may help.

Recovery tends to be slow and can take anything from weeks to months.  For more in-depth information and specific treatment advice, visit the appropriate section choosing from Achilles Tendonitis, Peroneal Tendonitis or Extensor Tendonitis.

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See Also

Common Causes of Foot Pain

Diagnose Your Pain

Foot & Ankle Anatomy

Treatment Options for Foot Problems



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