Injuries. Achilles tendonitis

What is Achilles tendonitis?

It is a common, painful disorder of the the Achilles tendon, the one that attaches muscles from the back of the lower leg to the heel. (Fig. 1)

Inflamed area of Achilles tendonitis
Fig. 1. Inflamed area of Achilles tendonitis

Tendonitis often affects runners, ballet dancers and many other athletic individuals and can cause considerable disability even in sedentary people. The red area in the illustration shows where pain and tenderness on the tendon usually occurs.

Considerable “scientific” dogma says that Achilles tendonitis is caused by overuse as are other tendon injuries such as tennis elbow and plantar fasciitis or “painful heel” where overuse may be a factor, but I doubt it is the actual CAUSE. Pain is usually a major symptom of AT so it would be reasonable to expect to find inflammation affecting the painful areas involved.

An interesting scientific discovery

But some Swedish researchers, Astrom et al, (“Chronic Achilles tendinopathy. A survey of surgical and histopathologic findings.“) biopsied the Achilles tendons of 163 patients with tendonitis and examined them under the microscope.

Surprisingly, they only discovered degenerative changes in the tendon such as abnormal fibre structure and marked growth in small blood vessels but, there was no inflammation present:

“Important features are a lack of inflammatory cells and a poor healing response.”

These are not signs of injury suggesting the cause may be related to a weakened immune system.

What causes the pain?

The pain appears to be due to the body’s immune system attacking and damaging its own tissues – a so-called “autoimmune reaction”. This “lapse” in the immune system in turn predisposes the athlete to injuries because  continued exercise tends to generate more pain. Essentially, the pain is due to excessive physical stress.

Long term stress, both physical and psychological can lead to an increased level of natural corticosteroids circulating in the bloodstream which then significantly suppress the body’s immune status leading to auto-immune damage. The targets for these attacks can involve any body tissue, but there is a  predilection for specific sites e.g. the thyroid gland, the anal mucosa (anal fissure), the plantar fascia (plantar fasciitis), the groin (osteitis pubis), tennis elbow and of course, the Achilles tendon.

How do we prevent or cure it?

I have seen many victims of these conditions recover, sometimes quite rapidly, after applying wheatgrass extract over the painful area where it appears to prevent or eliminate pain sensation reaching the brain where pain is “recognised”. Also, wheatgrass is known to be an effective inhibitor of Substance P, the body’s major pain neurotransmitter, and can often stop the pain quickly.

So, protect yourself from tendon and muscular injuries by applying a little wheatgrass extract over your upper and/or lower limbs prior to and after training or before the game.

Dr. Chris Reynolds.