Achilles Tendonitis/Tendinopathy and Needling

Achilles pain. You can’t live with it and you can’t live with it. Can needling help? The obvious answer is yes, but there is more as well.

There appears to be sufficient data to support the use of needling for achilles tendon problems . Perhaps it is the “reorganization” of collagen that makes it effective or a blood flow/vascularization phenomenon. The mechanism probably has something to do with pain and the reticular formation sending information down the cord via the lateral cell column (intermediolateral cell nucleus) or pain (nociceptive) afferents sending a collateral in the spinal cord to the dysfunctional muscle, affecting the alpha receptors and causing vasodilation. 

Loss of ankle dorsiflexion is a common factor that seems to contribute to achilles tendinopathies . It would seem that improving ankle rocker would be most helpful. In at least one study, needling restored ankle function and in another it improved strength. 

And don’t forget to go north of the lower leg/foot/ankle complex. The gluteus medius can many times the culprit as well. During running, the gluteus medius usually fires before heel strike, most likely to stabilize the hip and the pelvis. In runners with Achilles Tendonitis, its firing is delayed which may affect the kinematics of knee and ankle resulting in rear foot inversion. Perhaps the delayed action of the gluteus medius allows an adductory moment of the pelvis, moving the center of gravity medially. This could conceivably place additional stress on the achilles tendon (via the lateral gastroc) to create more eversion of the foot from midstance onward.

Similarly, in runners with achilles tendoinopathy, the gluteus maximus does not fire as long and activation is delayed. The glute max should be the primary hip extensor and decreased hip extension might be compensated by an increased ankle plantarflexion which could potentially increase the load on the Achilles tendon. 

So, in short, yes, needling will probably help, for these reasons and probably many more. Make sure to needle all the dysfunctional muscles up the chain, beginning at the foot and moving rostrally.

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The effect of electroacupuncture on tendon repair in a rat Achilles tendon rupture model.  Inoue M, Nakajima M, Oi Y, Hojo T, Itoi M, Kitakoji H. Acupunct Med. 2015 Feb;33(1):58-64. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2014-010611. Epub 2014 Oct 21.

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The effect of dry needling and treadmill running on inducing pathological changes in rat Achilles tendon. Kim BS, Joo YC, Choi BH, Kim KH, Kang JS, Park SR. Connect Tissue Res. 2015 Nov;56(6):452-60. doi: 10.3109/03008207.2015.1052876. Epub 2015 Jul 29.

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Acupuncture increases the diameter and reorganisation of collagen fibrils during rat tendonhealing.
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Electroacupuncture increases the concentration and organization of collagen in a tendon healing model in rats.
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Changes in blood circulation of the contralateral Achilles tendon during and after acupunctureand heating.Kubo K, Yajima H, Takayama M, Ikebukuro T, Mizoguchi H, Takakura N. Int J Sports Med. 2011 Oct;32(10):807-13. doi: 10.1055/s-0031-1277213. Epub 2011 May 26.

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 Insertional achilles tendinopathy associated with altered transverse compressive and axial tensile strain during ankle dorsiflexion. Chimenti RL, Bucklin M, Kelly M, Ketz J, Flemister AS, Richards MS, Buckley MR.
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 In vivo quantification of the shear modulus of the human Achilles tendon during passive loading using shear wave dispersion analysis.
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Wow!  Can you figure out why this person at the distal end of her first metatarsal under her medial sesamoid.

She recently underwent surgery for a broken fibula (distal with plate fixation) and microfracrure of the medial malleolus. You are looking at her full range of dorsiflexion which is improved from approximately 20° plantarflexion. She is now at just under 5°.

She has just begun weight-bearing and developed pain over the medial sesamoid.

The three rockers, depicted above from Thomas Michauds book, or necessary for normal gait.  This patient clearly has a loss of ankle rocker. Because of this loss her foot will cantilever forward and put pressure on the head of the first metatarsal.  This is resulting in excessive forefoot rocker.  Her other option would have been to pronate through the midfoot. Hers is relatively rigid so, as Dr. Allen likes to say, the “buck was passed to the next joint. ”

There needs to be harmony in the foot in that includes each rocker working independently and with in its normal range. Ankle rocker should be at least 10° with 15° been preferable and for footlocker at least 50° with 65 been preferable.

 If you need to know more about rockers, click here.

How are your hammy’s?

Another tool for you, in addition to making sure the gluten are on line, to improve ankle rocker and hip extension.

“This study concludes that neural mobilization techniques are a useful adjunct to static stretching, without any risk of adverse events or injuries. Athletes or trainers can consider using one or both types of neural mobilization techniques to enhance muscular flexibility. Dosage of the neural mobilization as well as the proposed working mechanism behind the increase in hamstring flexibility can be found in the full text of the article.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26482098

Phys Ther Sport. 2016 Jan;17:30-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2015.03.003. Epub 2015 Mar 17.
Short term effectiveness of neural sliders and neural tensioners as an adjunct to static stretching of hamstrings on knee extension angle in healthy individuals: A randomized controlled trial.
Sharma S, Balthillaya G2, Rao R, Mani R .

Sounds like a bad idea

Orthotics, can be useful adjunct to care. They can be used to give people biomechanics that they do not have while you were trying to improve them and help to make up for ranges of motion which do not seem attainable.

From the gate cycle we know that after initial contact and loading response the calcaneus should start to evert. The calcaneus will continue to evert until it encounters something (like the lateral heel counter of the shoe). At mid stance it should be fully everted and as the opposite leg comes in to swing, begin to invert. The lateral heel counter assists in the inversion/supination process.

To our knowledge, flip-flops, even if they have an increased arch, do not have a lateral heel counter and therefore will promote further lateral excursion of the calcaneus while the medial longitudinal arch is collapsing  (i.e.: midfoot pronation). Go ahead and place your foot into inversion and see what happens to your heel. It’s slides laterally.

It’s also well-established that flip-flops, through flexion of the distal toes and engagement of the long flexor tendons, inhibits ankle rocker. It is often necessary to engage these muscles to keep the flip-flop from coming off. Lack of ankle rocker usually will inhibit hip extension and that can cause a constellation of problems.

Though engagement of the long flexors of the toes will have a partial anti-pronatory effect, this is not enough to counter the excessive heel  eversion which is happening.

We generally do not think the flip-flops are a great idea and telling someone that it’s “OK” to wear flip-flops as long as it has appropriate arch support, is silly.

Can you guess why this person has left-sided plantar fasciitis?

This question probably seem somewhat rhetorical. Take a good look at these pedographs which provide us some excellent clues.

First of all,  note how much pressure there is over the metatarsal heads. This is usually a clue that people are lacking ankle rocker and pressuring these heads as the leg cantilevers forward.  This person definitely have a difficult time getting the first metatarsal head down to the ground.

Notice the overall size of the left foot compared to the right (right one is splayed or longer). This is due to keeping the foot and somewhat of a supinated posture to prevent excessive tension on the plantar fascia.

The increase splay of the right foot indicates more mid foot pronation and if you look carefully there is slightly more printing at the medial longitudinal arch. This is contributing to the clawing of the second third and fourth toes on the right. Stand up, overpronate your right foot and notice how your center of gravity (and me) move medially.The toes will often clench in an attempt to create stability.

The patient’s pain is mostly at the medial and lateral calcaneal facets, and within the substance of the quadratus plantae with weakness of that muscle and the extensor digitorum longus. She has 5° ankle dorsiflexion left and 10 degrees on the right and hip extension which is similar.

The lack of ankle rocker and hip extension or causing her to pronate through her midfoot, Tensioning are plantar fascia at the insertion. The problem is worse on the left and therefore that is where the symptoms are.

Pedographs can be useful tool in the diagnostic process and provide clues as to biomechanical faults in the gait cycle.

Do you know where your rocker is?

At 1st pass, some articles may seem like a sleeper, but there can be some great clinical pearls to be had. I recently ran across one of these. It was a presentation from the  42nd annual American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists meeting in Orlando, March 2016 entitled “ Shifting Position of Shoe Heel Rocker Affects Ankle Mechanics During Gait”. The title caught my eye.

They looked at ankle kinematics while keeping the toe portion of rocker constant at 63% of foot length, angled at 25 degrees and shifting the base of a rockered shoe from 1cm behind the medial malleolus, directly under it and 1cm anterior to it. Knee and hip kinematics did not differ significantly, however ankle range of motion did.

The more forward the ankle rocker, the less plantarflexion but more ankle dorsiflexion at midstance. So, the question begs, why do we care? Lets explore that further…

  • Think about the “average” heel rocker in a shoe. It largely has to do with the length of the heel and heel flare (base) of the shoe. The further back this is (ie; the more “flare”) the more plantar flexion at heel strike and less ankle dorsiflexion (and thus ankle rocker, as described HERE) you will see. Since loss of ankle dorsiflexion (ie: rocker) usually means a loss of hip extension (since these 2 things should be relatively equal during gait (see here), and that combination can be responsible for a whole host of problems that we talk about here on the blog all the time. Picking a shoe with a heel rocker based further forward (having less of a flare) would stand to promote more ankle dorsiflexion.
  • Having a shoe with a greater amount of “drop” from heel to toe (ie: ramp delta) is going to have the same effect. It will move the calcaneus forward with respect to the heel of the shoe and effectively move the rocker posteriorly.
  • Lastly, look a the shape of the outsole of the shoe. The toe drop is usually clear to see, but does it have a heel rocker (see the picture above)?

These are  a few examples of what to look for in a clients shoe when examining theirs or making a recommendation, depending on whether you are trying to improve or decrease ankle rocker. We can’t think of why you would want to decrease ankle rocker, but with conditions like rigid hallux limitus, where the person has limited or no dorsiflexion of the great toe, you may want to employ a rockered sole shoe. We would recommend one with the rocker set more forward.

yet another cause of impaired ankle rocker. Be sure to do a thorough exam!

“Many pathogenic manifestations of equinus occur due to the center of pressure displacement that is seen in diseased states. Typically, the center of pressure on the foot can be measured 6 cm anterior to the ankle during gait, but with equinus, it is shifted distally and laterally. The pull of the Achilles tendon cannot adequately compensate for the new distal and lateral center of pressure and, as a result, an overall pronatory force remains.”

http://lermagazine.com/article/equinus-its-surprising-role-in-foot-pathologies