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Ankle tendon problems often result from injury, though the tendons can weaken over time and cause problems as well. The most common problems that affect ankle tendons are inflammation, tears, and ruptures. The Achilles tendon, which connects the heel and calf muscle; the peroneal tendons along the outside of the lower leg; and the posterior tibial tendon attached to the back of the shin bone are those most commonly affected by ankle injury and other problems.
Tendinitis is the inflammation of a tendon. Inflammation is often a result of repetitive movement, such as running or jumping. Swelling may or may not be noticeable on the outside of the ankle, and it does not always cause pain. Tendinitis is often a precursor to other problems with the ankle tendons, however, so people with it should refrain from activities that stress the ankles until the tendon is healed.
Ankle tendons can tear, which can result in pain and loss of strength in the ankle. Microtears in the tendons results in a condition caused tendinosis, which is usually a result of overuse of the ankle. This condition is often found in individuals with tendinitis. These small tears usually come on slowly and gradually, and people with tendinosis may not experience any symptoms. Over time, these small tears can lead to a larger partial tear or a complete rupture of the tendon.
Partially torn or ruptured ankle tendons are more likely to cause pain and weakness. The pain may be persistent, but it is often only noticeable when walking, running, or twisting the ankle. Doctors use x-rays to diagnose tears, ruptures, and other ankle tendon problems. In many cases, ice, rest, immobilization, and medication for pain and swelling is all that is needed for an ankle tendon to heal properly.
Ankle bursitis can result in swelling, pain, and difficulty moving and walking. Bursitis occurs when a sac between the tendon and a bone swells. Infections, arthritis, gout, and repetitive pressure on the ankle are the most common causes for ankle bursitis. Treatment usually involves alternating ice and heat, and may include antibiotics and other treatments for underlying conditions that may have contributed to the bursitis.
Surgery to correct problems with ankle tendons is usually only necessary in cases of extreme injury, such as a tear that cuts through the entire tendon. Surgeons can open up the ankle to surgically repair the tendon. Sometimes a doctor may remove tissue from around the tendon, which may be causing irritation.