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 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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Electroacupuncture increases the concentration and organization of collagen in a tendon healing model in rats.
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Limited ankle dorsiflexion increases the risk for mid-portion Achilles tendinopathy in infantry recruits: a prospective cohort study. Rabin A, Kozol Z, Finestone AS. J Foot Ankle Res. 2014 Nov 18;7(1):48. doi: 10.1186/s13047-014-0048-3. eCollection 2014.

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and what have we been saying about loss of ankle rocker and achilles tendon problems for years now?

Here is a FREE, FULL TEXT article talking all about it

“A more limited ankle Dorsi Flexion ROM as measured in Non Weight Bearing with the knee bent increases the risk of developing Achilles Tendinopathy among military recruits taking part in intensive physical training.”

J Foot Ankle Res. 2014 Nov 18;7(1):48. doi: 10.1186/s13047-014-0048-3. eCollection 2014.Limited ankle dorsiflexion increases the risk for mid-portion Achilles tendinopathy in infantry recruits: a prospective cohort study.Rabin A1, Kozol Z, Finestone AS.

link to full text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4243387/

We had a great PODcast in the studio last Friday, talking about tendon vascularity and compression vs tension therapies for tendinopathies.

Here is a great FULL TEXT article on tendon vascularity that can serve as a catalyst for designing your treatment programs

“Conclusions
Neovascularization is critical to tissue repair and wound healing. Therefore, strategies to enhance vascularization to promote regeneration are considered promising treatment modalities, i.e., the use of platelet rich plasma (PRP) to restore functional bone (Zhang et al., 2013) or skin (Kakudo et al., 2011). However, in acute or chronic tendon injuries hypervascularity often does not pave the way to functional recovery of the tissue. Therefore, to overcome the limited intrinsic regeneration capacity of tendon and to achieve scarless healing will most likely require a balanced manipulation of the angiogenic response in tendon tissue. For a variety of treatment methods, such as the use of PRP, the availability of clinical data is limited, due to heterogeneity in application (Khan and Bedi, 2015). In order to develop rational strategies to achieve a well-balanced angiogenic response following tendon injury, we need a thorough understanding of the molecular and cellular networks driving tendon vascularization and regeneration—a challenge for years to come.”

image from: http://www.slideshare.net/ShoulderPain/rotator-cuff-repair-23326992

link to full text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4650849/

What are we listening to this week? The Plantaris…

Thanks to Karly Foster of Twin Bridges Physiotherapy the: Physioedge podcast with David Pope

Imagine if you were able to dedicate a large portion of your life to the study of one individual muscle. That’s exactly what the main person interviewed here has done Dr. Kristof Spang from Sweden has done.  a lot of research on Achilles tendon tendinopathy.This podcast looks at the role of the plantaris muscle in mid tendon tendinopathy, with an emphasis on anatomy.

This muscle needs to be considered in recalcitrant cases of Achilles tendon apathy which of not respond to conservative means.

Dr Spang goes through some of the anatomical variations of attachment of the plantaris, with 10 to 20% attaching into the Achilles tendon. Since there seems to be at least nine different anatomical variations in attachment that can occur; this can often explain the variety of symptoms associated with plantaris issues.

The plantaris attaches from the lateral aspect of the femoral condyle downward to its insertion point within deli near its origin at the knee. The area of attachment distally can be between two and 5 mm and this “area attachment” may be part of the source of the pain. Phylogenetically the tendon attaches into the plantar fashia, similar to the palmaris. One theory is due to the small muscle size it may actually act as a proprioceptive sentinel for the knee and ankle. The peritendonous tissue may interfere with the gliding of the tendon in this is believed to be one of the ideologies of this recalcitrant problem.

Of the diagnostic imaging available, ultrasound seems to provide the most clues. In the absence of imaging, recalcitrant medial knee tendon Achilles tendon pain seems to also be a good indicator.

Our takeaway was that most often the problem seems to be had a conjoined area between the planters and Achilles tendon midcalf lead to most problems. Treatment concentrated in this area may have better results. If this is unsuccessful, surgery (removal of the plantaris, extreme, eh?)  may need to be considered.

Regarding specific tests for plantaris involvement, people who pronate seem to be more susceptible than those who supinate. This is not surprising since the tendon runs from lateral to medial it would be under more attention during predatory forces

It seems that plantaris tendonopathy  can exist separately from an conjoint tendinopathy and it may be that people of younger age may suffer from plantaris tendinopathy alone. This may indicate that the problem may begin with the plantaris and that the planters is actually stronger and stiffer than the Achilles!

It was emphasized that this condition only exists in a small percentage of mid Achilles tendon apathy patients. And that conservative means should always be exhausted first.

All in all, an interesting discussion for those who are interested in pathoanatomy. Check out part 2 in this series for more. 

link to PODcast: http://physioedge.com.au/physio-edge-041-plantaris-involvement-in-midportion-achilles-tendinopathy/