Your Achilles tendon is a band of tissue connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone. When you overuse this tendon, it can become painfully inflamed. This condition is known as Achilles tendinitis. How can you avoid this problem? What can you do about it if you do develop this condition? In this article, we will explore these questions and provide sound advice to help you keep your Achilles tendons in good shape. Read on to learn more.
Who Gets Achilles Tendinitis?
Runners and athletes who experience a sudden increase in their activity level are very likely to suffer from inflamed Achilles tendons. It is always a good idea to increase frequency, duration and/or intensity of your workout gradually to prevent this and many other types of exercise related injuries. This is doubly true if you are middle-aged and accustomed to getting most of your exercise on the weekends. Add a little exercise to your everyday schedule to prevent injuring yourself in weekend activities such as tennis, baseball, hiking or running.
Is This Condition Dangerous?
Sometimes Achilles tendinitis can be serious and dangerous. If you injure yourself badly, you could tear the tendon. If this happens, you may need surgery. Luckily, most of the time tendon inflammation can be treated at home using simple Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE) techniques
In this video, physical therapists, Bob & Brad demonstrate exercise and massage techniques to help heal Achilles tendinitis:
Achilles Tendonitis: Absolute Best Self-Treatment, Exercises, & Stretches
What Are The Symptoms Of A Damaged Achilles Tendon?
If you have injured your Achilles tendons, you may experience:
- Severe pain when you climb stairs or partake of very challenging physical exercise
- Aching in the back of your leg and/or above your heel after exercising or running
- Stiffness and tenderness in the calves and heels when getting out of bed
If your problem is just tendinitis and not a tear, pain after exercise should lessen when you apply RICE techniques. Pain upon arising should lessen after you have moved around and warmed up a bit.
What if pain persists?
If you are not able to get any relief from your pain, be sure to see your doctor. If your problem is not Achilles tendinitis, you may need a different form of treatment. If you have torn your Achilles tendon, no amount of RICE therapy will help. You’ll need surgery.
Why does this happen?
As we age our tendons may become weaker and may injure more easily. The Achilles tendon is especially susceptible to repetitive use injury or acute injury caused by sudden, unaccustomed activity. This tendon gets a lot of use in everyday ambulation as it is engaged whenever you stand on your toes (wear high heels), jump, run or walk, so it has a lot of chances to be injured.
What are the main risk factors for this type of injury?
There are several factors that are common to people who experience Achilles tendinitis. Among them are:
- Gender: Men are more likely to experience this injury.
- Maturity: People who are middle aged or older are at greater risk.
- Compromised physical condition. If you are flat footed or have had a previous foot, ankle or lower leg injury, you are at greater risk.
- Obesity: If you are overweight, your Achilles tendons are under greater stress.
- Careless training: If you tend to run or exercise on uneven, slippery or otherwise dangerous surfaces, you are at greater risk.
- Failure to warm up: If you do not warm up before exercising, you are at greater risk. Likewise if you exercise outdoors in very cold weather, you may be at risk.
- Poor footwear: If your shoes are poorly fitted, worn out or just inappropriate to the task at hand, you are more likely to experience this and other injuries.
- Chronic medical conditions: If you have a severe chronic condition such as hypertension, psoriasis or a number of other health challenges, you may be more at risk for this injury. This does not mean you should not exercise, but you should start slowly, increase incrementally and be careful.
- Prescription use: There are some medications, such as fluoroquinolones, which are a specific type of antibiotic, which have been known to increase instances of Achilles tendon injury.
- Previous Achilles tendon injury: If you have had Achilles tendinitis before, you are likely to experience it again unless you are very careful. You are also at greater risk for an Achilles tendon rupture.
What can you do to prevent Achilles tendinitis?
Common sense measures can really help you avoid injuring your Achilles tendons. Follow these practices for a safer exercise experience.
1. Never make sudden changes to your exercise routine. Increase or add activity a little bit at a time to give your body plenty of time to accustom itself.
2. Don’t overdo. Avoid running uphill or participating in other excessively stressful and strenuous activities. If you are participating in a very challenging activity, be sure to warm up in advance and stop immediately if you experience pain during the activity.
3. Invest in good shoes. Be sure your running or sports shoes fit properly and provide plenty of cushioning and support. When your shoes begin to wear out, replace them right away.
4. Use orthotics. If your shoes don’t have good arch support, add some good orthotics. Arch support is very important in helping prevent damage to the Achilles tendons.
5. Stretch every morning and every night. Even on days when you do not work out you should stretch. It’s a good idea to establish a morning and evening stretching routine. Pay particular attention to your lower legs, calf muscles, heels and feet.
6. Get a little light exercise every day. If you usually play sports or run on the weekends, be sure to keep your body toned during the week with daily walks, yoga and/or other light, easy exercise that you can do every day.
7. Make sure your calf muscles are strong. Practice heel raises, yoga stretches and other classic calf exercises every day to strengthen your calf muscles and support your Achilles tendons.
8. Participate in well-rounded training. Alternate your activities for all-over, total fitness. In addition to targeting your lower legs, calves, ankles and heels, participate in swimming, cycling, walking, dancing and playing games for whole body health, fitness and well-being.
Here, Bob & Brad demonstrate some of the best calf strengthening exercises.
Top 10 Calf Exercises for “Hot”, Stronger, Calf Muscles (Gastroc-Soleus)