Calcific tendinosis sounds pretty bad, and it is. This is a condition in which the Achilles tendon calcifies — it gets hard. There is usually a calcified mass right by the Achilles tendon.
Tendons are rope-like structures in our bodies. They stretch and return to their original position, bringing other body parts along with them. Think of the elastic in the waistband of your shorts. It stretches as you pull the shorts up over your posterior and eases back to fit your waist. Just so, the Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. It stretches out and eases back so you can walk, jump, and run.
When calcium builds up in the Achilles tendon, it gets hard. Calcium is present in every cell and it flows through the bloodstream, too, so there’s no mystery about where it comes from. It’s supposed to build up in one situation: building bones. This is not what you want in a tendon. You wouldn’t want the elastic in your shorts to be replaced with bone, and you don’t want that to happen to your Achilles tendon, either.
That would mean goodbye to running, jumping, and walking, and that’s about what happens with calcific tendinosis. The calcium deposits look like bone in an X-ray but they are not as hard as bone — just too hard for proper functioning of your Achilles tendon.
Early signs include stiffness in the Achilles tendon when you start your day or get up from a long stretch at your desk. Next comes pain when you try to run, jump, or walk. The tendon thickens and a hard mass — even a bone spur — develops.
How to avoid calcific tendinosis
If you notice the early warning signs — or you’re reading this before you have any problems and want to avoid them — you can nip this in the bud. Some of the things that can lead to calcific tendinosis:
- Shoes with stiff heel counters, like ski boots or ice skates or high heeled pumps
- Excessive stress on the Achilles tendon leading to repeated micro-damage
Unfortunately, there is no good answer for what causes calcific tendinosis. It usually comes on as sudden pain even though it’s a result of long-term damage. In some cases, the pain comes from a breakup of the calcified mass. The condition can be seen in athletes and in sedentary people. It’s slightly more common in older people and slightly more common in women, but it’s mostly an equal opportunity injury.
The first suggestion for treatment is rest. Maybe six months of rest. If that doesn’t work, surgery is usually the next option.