When an Achilles tendon ruptures, the patient may tell you they heard a sound like a gunshot and they cannot walk, but with an Achilles tendon tear it is still possible to walk around without knowing your injury.
This week a lady consulted me complaining of pains at the back of both heels and into the calves, which had been there for more 6 weeks. She experienced aching, throbbing and a stretching sensation, especially in the evening. She felt less pain wearing higher heeled shoes. In addition, the pain was worse when she got up after sitting for some time.
There was a history of a right ankle fracture and some persisitent left knee pain. She also told me that she had been diagnosed with calcaneal spurs many years ago. The lady was overweight and of short height.
During my examination, I could see and feel that both Achilles tendons were swollen and had nodules in them. Her walking stride was short and stamping. There were other significant biomechanical problems too.
Temporary treatment consisted of in-shoe wedging. I also referred the lady for an ultrasound scan of the Achilles tendons.
Two days later the scan reported the left tendon as having “….an almost full thickness intra-tendon tear ……approximately 2.8mm thick, extending 30mm longitudinally.” On the right “……loss of fibrillar pattern, consistent with fraying.”
There were other features, but this was one lucky lady, because there could have been a rupture at any time. This time she was referred to an orthopaedic foot surgeon.
So whether you are a patient or podiatrist, when managing chronic pain at the back of the heel, consider the benefits of ultrasound scanning to assist in diagnosis and always act quickly, you might discover an Achilles tendon tear.
Choosing the correct footwear for walking is very important. With the Talk Radio 702 Walk the Talk coming up this Sunday 26th July, there will be 50,000 people strolling, walking, meandering, marching and even racing through the streets of Johannesburg.
The most important thing is to keep to the footwear that you have been using, don’t treat yourself to a new pair of trainers for the day, because although they may feel quite good at first, they need a bit of wear to ‘bed in’.
I suppose that there will be some serious hikers/walkers in the race and they will know that the best footwear is your regular well worn (not worn out) footwear. If you are walking, just for fun, in your old worn out trainers, you might be better to walk in your most comfortable more formal shoes!
A firm but cushioning sole is best. Firmly laced, not too tightly, because your feet will swell a little and if laced too tightly, the lacing and tongue will press on the nerves on top of your feet, making them numb or tingly.
If you do get these symptoms, stop and re-tie your laces, rather then get pain. The fit around the heel must be close, so that there is no excessive sliding of your foot, because excessive sliding or shearing causes blisters.
Choice of socks is very personal. Thick or thin they should be able to absorb some of the sweat that you are going to shed. It’s worth using a thicker cotton sock rather than a woollen one.
Although many walkers and runners use no socks or even the feet out of stockings, again use what you are used to.
If you have been getting blisters during your preparation for the race, try putting a ‘blob’ of Vaseline over the place that blisters, it works as a lubricant and will reduce the risk of blistering.
An alternative is to cover a sensitive area with plaster, just beware of putting it where it could roll up and cause a sore spot.
Tactically, watch out for getting sucked along at a faster pace than you want to, or are able to go. This is one way to pick up an injury and get painful feet. You must try to keep to your own pace.
After the race, if you have blisters or any foot problem, look out for the University of Johannesburg Podiatry Caravan and treatment area, they will be able to help with most foot problems.
The Biennial Congress of the South African Podiatry Association took place this last weekend.
The first two days were a Biomechanics Boot Camp taught by renowned Australian podiatrist Craig Payne and today there were presentations by local podiatrists on rheumatology, diabetes, paleo-anthropology and education.
Most podiatrists routinely perform biomechanical examinations on their patients – but this Boot Camp was something else – it has changed my thought paradigms and will alter the way I examine my patients and any orthotic treatment I decide to use. (I know this is true for every one else who attended the Boot Camp).
There was another interesting development at the Congress, I was elected Chairman of the South African Podiatry Association for the next two years.
This is a real privilege and challenge as podiatry in South Africa needs to have a much higher profile and take a more prominent place in the South African health care scene.
Expect to see much more about feet and foot care in the future.
Many older people suffer a fall with consequent injury such as a fractured shoulder, wrist, hip, ankle or foot. In the UK there is an active falls prevention initiative, promoted by the National Health Service. Not so in South Africa, although we are aware of the problem.
Have you ever thought how the state of your feet could contribute to a fall? Podiatrists should be involved in preventing falls and your visit to one could help to prevent one.
Hazel Tomkins, a British podiatrist, writing in Podiatry Now has detailed how your feet can cause a fall.
So, if you want to stand on your own two feet here’s what to look out for.
Any corn, callus, ulceration, painful nail condition alters the way your foot hits the ground. This usually makes walking uncomfortable and unsteady. With age, the cushioning fatty pad on the soles of the feet thins out – giving less protection to the bones and joints underneath.
Changes to the basic shape of the feet alters the ability to walk evenly. Often the cause of these changes is reduced muscle strength. On the other hand, any change in posture – quite common as we age – is associated with weakening of our muscles, so there is the potential for loss of balance or unsteadiness.
Watch out for changes to the length of your legs after hip or knee replacement surgery. The pain has gone but you really do need to do all the physiotherapy to restore muscle strength and balance.
At the same time there are many changes to hearing and eyesight which affect the ability to balance and see clearly what is going on around us.
If you have any nerve changes associated with diabetes (neuropathy), you are disadvantaged, because you have a reduced ability to respond to the sensory stimuli around you. On the other hand, arthritis can cause deformity as well as stiffness, making movement difficult, slower or unsteady.
Research into barefoot walking showed a 19% worse performance when barefoot compared with even a least unstable shoe. Going barefoot or stocking feet dramatically increases the falls risk.
Simple you might think, I’ll wear slippers or shoes. Well this is an area of some dispute. There is good scientific evidence that if you change to a lower or flat heel after a lifetime of wearing high heels, you have a greater risk of falling! At the same time there is research which suggests that the most important feature of footwear in preventing falls is the grip of the sole on the ground. Added to that is the need for good fit and thicker soles.
So what to do?
Keep mobile – exercise regularly – start walking, even if you use a walking aid. Maybe you need to start using one? Make sure that you can see and hear as well as possible.
A visit to a podiatrist for a biomechanical assessment is an important way to identify any underlying structural and functional problems. Treatment of any painful foot condition, such as corns and calluses, is essential and information on the best shoes for you, will be provided.
Avoid higher heels, barefoot walking and slippers. Consider wearing trainers with a rippled sole. A word of warning though, some trainers have really ‘grippy’ soles and that can cause a fall!
Try to remove all loose carpet runners and potential hazards that you could trip over. Make sure the lighting in your home is adequate (most falls occur at home!).
It takes team work to prevent falls, so get any advice that you can, or share it with those who you know are at most risk of a fall.
I recently had an enquiry by email which brought home to me the advantages that we have in this day and age because the patient included some photographs of his condition.
It also illustrated the importance of making regular inspections of your feet which are a frequently neglected extremity of our bodies.
His story went like this: “Until recently, toenail number 2 used to look like number 4, i.e. a bit of white at the base of the nail that I put down to left over soap from the shower when I glanced at it from a great height.
(Click the photos to Enlarge)
When the edge of the nail is pressed back from the front edge it appears that the nail is cracked across about half way down the length as though it has had an impact. As a result it curves down from mid point towards the front. I don’t have any shoe problems that might cause this so if an impact rather than constant pressure has caused this then I was unaware of it. (or maybe aware at the time but not of the ongoing effect.)
Left foot is normal.”
From the written description it might be difficult to understand what might be happening. But the inclusion of the photographs (not difficult in this age of digital cameras) made the diagnosis much easier.
The description and the appearance is typical of Onychomycosis = fungal infection.
The 4th toe shows the typical crumbly? yellow, patchy discolouration the 2nd is a classic presentation.
An alternative diagnosis is psoriasis; with this, developments like you describe are more associated with stress; however,normally there is a history of the underlying condition (psoriasis), which I don’t think you have.
Mycoses or fungal infections are usually picked up from communal shower facilities – gyms, change rooms, boarding school – they develop in a warm, moist environment -closed shoes, stockings, central heating, high humidity in summer.
They are contagious and spread easily when the growth conditions are optimal. (Like mushrooms).
Simplest treatment: Tea Tree Tincture or Oil twice daily.
Use an emery board to GENTLY abraid the nail, this creates a rough surface, then drip on the solution and wipe away the excess. Does not matter if solution gets onto the surrounding skin.
Commonly prescribed treatment: topical anti-fungal agents, some of which are over the counter. Or prescription oral agents if there is multiple toe involvement.
Warning: watch out for any rash in your groin or the soles of your feet. That indicates surface Tinea i.e. fungal infection.
Just be patient and observant for more toes getting it.
In an otherwise healthy person the development of this fungal infection of Onychomycosis is easily passed over as happened in this case until it had a good hold. So keep a careful eye on your extremities.