The five tendons that stretch across the top of the foot are collectively known as the extensor tendons, and like other connective tissue, if these tendons become inflamed, it can cause pain and swelling, and this condition is known as extensor tendonitis. The extensor tendons help pull the foot upward into an “L” shape, working as a team with the calf muscle, which pulls the foot downward. Athletes with the highest risk of extensor tendonitis are those who flex the foot repeatedly, such as in running, especially uphill.
Causes of extensor tendonitis can vary, from increasing mileage too quickly, to footwear that is worn out or improperly supports the arch of the foot, to running on hills. Stiff calf muscles can also cause extensor tendonitis. Symptoms include pain on the top of the foot, discomfort while running, and swelling on the top of the foot. Additionally, an inability to push the toes upwards toward the ankle when resistance is applied to the toes can be another sign of extensor tendonitis.
If you think you may have extensor tendonitis, the first step to recovery is to take a break from training. Resting, icing, using compression bandage and elevating the affected foot can all expedite healing. If pain persists or gets worse despite this treatment, however, you should consult a sports medicine specialist. He or she can rule out other possible injuries that could be causing your pain, such as a stress fracture, and can prescribe other ways to help your foot heal. It may be necessary to wear a brace or cast to support the foot, and special exercises–such as those that loosen the calf muscles–also might help speed healing.
After your extensor tendonitis has healed, keep it from coming back by wearing shoes that fit properly, and by increasing mileage gradually.