Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) continues to prove itself as an invaluable member of the medical imaging team. The Radiology Clinic utilizes 3T MRI, which is the strongest and fastest technology available. While other modalities have their place, 3T MRI renders the most detailed pictures of soft tissue in the body. Therefore, when a patient comes in with symptoms of heel pain, soreness, and swelling in the Achilles tendon area, an MRI might be in order.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the attending physician will look for these signs:

  • Swelling along the Achilles tendon or at the back of your heel
  • Thickening or enlargement of the Achilles tendon
  • Bony spurs at the lower part of the tendon at the back of your heel (insertional tendinitis)
  • The point of maximum tenderness
  • Pain in the middle of the tendon, (non-insertional tendinitis)
  • Pain at the back of your heel at the lower part of the tendon (insertional tendinitis)
  • Limited range of motion in your ankle—specifically, a decreased ability to flex  your foot

The doctor then determines if an MRI is necessary for further evaluation, especially when it’s clear that soft tissue is involved. Regular x-rays are sufficient for assessing the bony structures. An MRI doesn’t just show the Achilles tendon, but it also demonstrates the degree to which there is damage or degeneration present.

The exam itself is very straightforward for the patient. The patient lies on his or her back with the feet entering the MRI unit first. The affected limb is immobilized, and the patient is otherwise made as comfortable as possible.

After the MRI scan, the thing that isn’t quite as clear-cut is the vocabulary that gives a name to the different pathologies or conditions of the Achilles tendon. It’s still straightforward for the patient as he or she simply states, “My ankle hurts.” But for the medical professionals involved, there is a transition taking place. The industry is moving toward nomenclature that is more accurate in describing the specifics of the condition of the Achilles tendon, as well as the anatomical location of the problem. A consistency in terminology must be adhered to in order to provide the most reliable and excellent patient care.

While the language might be confusing, here is where MRI shines with clarity. An MRI can differentiate between swelling versus thickening of the Achilles tendon. It can shed light on a fresh complaint compared to chronic degeneration as part of the aging process. MRI can give an accurate measurement on the size of a tear or the increased size of the tendon due to swelling. It can detect small nuances down to a millimeter. This is crucial in helping radiologists correctly evaluate the Achilles tendon.

The radiologic technologists and radiologists at The Radiology Clinic are fully-trained, medical professionals who make it a priority to be experts in their field, and that includes MRI of the Achilles tendon. The Radiology Clinic focuses on excellence in service, diagnostics, and patient comfort.