Achilles Tendinitis: Keep Your Heel Safe And Sound

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The foot and the surrounding area is obviously very important for runners. Also this injury falls in this area and is quite common among runners.

Do you know why the Achilles tendon that connects your heel with your calf muscle is called Achilles?

The origin of that name can be found in Greek mythology. A baby named Achilles was foretold to have an early death. To prevent this, his mother dipped the child into the river Styx, which was supposed to give power of invulnerability.

However his mother held young Achilles by his heel which therefore had no contact to the water. Achilles became a famous fighter and hero in the Trojan war. But the heel was his weak spot. In a battle a poisonous arrow hit him in the heel, killing Achilles shortly afterwards.

After this legend, the term Achilles heel became known and used for any weakness.

And also the tendon on the back of your lower leg can be a weak spot for many runners. So let’s dig in the injury called Achilles tendinitis, what it is and how you can deal with it.

What Is Achilles Tendinitis

Like most other issues a runner may face in the course of her/his running life, also Achilles tendinitis is an overuse issue.

Basically it’s an inflammation of parts or the entire Achilles tendon, that connects your heel with your calf muscle.

The injury that often is also called Achilles tendinopathy or is written Achilles tendonitis, occurs with repetitive activities that involve some sort of jumping. Since running is a serious of thousands of “mini jumps”, runners are especially at risk.

Symptoms And Diagnosis

Also for Achilles tendinitis the main symptom is pain. This pain could be local in the middle of the Achilles tendon but can also spread and can be felt as a burning pain around the entire ankle.

The pain is worse during and after workouts. Some also report that it’s worse at the beginning of a run but gets better as the workout progresses.

Also the ankle might feel stiff due to the swelling especially in the morning. Also the area around your Achilles tendon might feel a bit warmer than the other side because of the inflammation.

When you have these kind of symptoms, chances are high that you suffer from Achilles tendinitis. As a differential diagnosis a rupture of the Achilles tendon is possible.

However then you had a sudden over bending of the foot, trauma or an Achilles tendonitis that was standing for a long time.

As always if you’re not sure and/or the treatment described below doesn’t help, go and see a doctor.

Treatment of Achilles Tendinitis

Can I Keep Running?

Well as always this is the question runners training for a race don’t want to have the real answer to. As with any other injury, resting the injured body part is the first thing to do.

You might be able to do a reduced training but I recommend to stop running until the pain is mostly gone. There are plenty of other things you can do to stay fit during an injury.

Check out more on that further below in this post.

Recovery Activities

Apart from resting you can also ice the hurting parts of your Achilles tendon in the early stages of recovery. Do this several times a day for 20-30 minutes. This will help to reduce the pain and swelling and should be done for the first couple of days of the recovery period.

Like with any other inflammation compression and elevation of the impacted body part can speed up recovery as well.

When the pain significantly decreased, you can start to gently stretch your calve muscles. You can do this stretching exercise:

If this easy stretching isn’t causing any more pain, you should also start with strengthening exercises of your calf muscles. Research has shown that the best strength exercise for treating Achilles tendinitis is the eccentric heel drop.

To see how this exercise is done, check out the videos below.

As with stretching, start easy with strength work to avoid that the injury gets worse again. Start with two sets of ten repetitions once a day and build up from there if your Achilles tendon feels good.

At the end you should be doing three sets with 15 repetitions and this twice a day, both with straight legs but also with bend knees.

How to Stay Fit During the Injury

Ok now, you shouldn’t continue running and should gently start with stretching and strengthening. But how can you keep a decent cardiovascular fitness level so you don’t start from nothing once the injury is healed.

The main focus should be on endurance activities that don’t put heavy load on your Achilles tendon and your calves. The standard choice for runners would be cycling. Try this also for Achilles tendinitis but be aware that your ankle is also in moving with this sport.

If cycling doesn’t work for you, swimming is probably the best choice. Try to swim with a style that doesn’t involve your legs or feet too much.

Also you can build up core strength while you are injured. This helps you to come back stronger and with an upright and proper running posture after the injury.

Running Comeback Routine

As with any other injury having a good comeback is very important but not that easy. The general rule should again be to take things really slowly.

If you don’t feel any more pain when you walk and do your exercises, go for an easy run just for a couple of minutes. You can also run for five to ten minutes and make a walk break and check how your Achilles tendon is feeling. If there isn’t any pain, run again for five to ten minutes.

Slowly build up from there but make sure in the beginning to have a rest day in between any two running days. In the rest days do your stretching and strength training routine.

Every runner and any injury is different, so it’s important to know your body and listen to its signals in order to come back to running without getting injured again right away.

How to Avoid Achilles Tendinitis

In order to prevent Achilles tendinitis you have to know all different kinds of causes that lead to the injury. And there are plenty of things that come to mind here.

The list below shows the most common causes of Achilles tendinitis in order of importance. Check if one or more are an issue for you and work on these with the suggestions I make.

  1. Too much too soon
    The classic among overuse injuries for runners. A sudden spike in training volume and/or intensity can also lead to Achilles tendinitis. Don’t increase your training by more than 10% each week and build in a recovery week every third or fourth week.
  2. Change of surface
    If you’re used to run on soft grounds like grass or trails and suddenly switch to road running, injuries can happen easily. Do changes of your training terrain slowly starting with an easy run on the new surface and add one run each week.
  3. Overpronation
    If you have a flat foot or your ankle rolls inward when running for another reason, the strain on your Achilles tendon increases. Try ankle-supporting running shoes and consider switching to minimal running long-term to strengthen your foot muscles.
  4. Tight muscles
    If your muscles, especially your calves and hamstrings, are not fully recovered and tight when you go running, this can lead to injuries as well. Stretch and foam roll your muscles regularly and get a massage if you can.
  5. Muscle weaknesses
    If there are any weak spots and muscle dysbalances your chances of getting injured increase. Try to incorporate a balanced strength training twice a week focusing on calves, hamstrings, quads and hip muscles. Also a strong core helps keeping up a healthy running stride and posture.
  6. Bad walking or other sports
    Walking in high heels and toe walking are also known to foster Achilles tendinitis. Also sports with sudden stops like tennis don’t help. Try to avoid these in your spare time as much as possible.

Resources

To wrap up this post on Achilles tendinitis, I’ll encourage you to check out these additional resources on running injuries.

How to Deal With a Running Injury

The Naked Truth Why You Get Injured

10 Secrets That Help You Prevent Running Injuries

Happy running,
mikula

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