An estimated 230,000 Americans suffer from Achilles injuries every year. It’s an incredibly common issue, but also one that is, in most cases, also solvable. Below we feature a runner’s guide to the Achilles tendon. It includes all the basics about injuries, causes, prevention, and the shoes that will keep your Achilles tendon healthy and safe.
Typical Achilles Heel Injuries
Improper footwear, misalignment, overuse, and a sudden increase in use are all common causes of Achilles injury, but more often than not, a combination of factors contribute to the types of debilitating Achilles injuries that will keep you off your feet.
While these injuries can happen to anyone, they’re most common in people between 35 and 45, and regular symptoms include a visibly thickened or swollen Achilles tendon, pain when trying to push off your leg, and a feeling of overwhelming weakness behind your heel.
These signs are often indications of Achilles tendonitis, Achilles tendinosis, Achiles tenosynovitis, or Tennis Leg. In the most severe case, your Achilles tendon can rupture, but if that’s the case we pretty much figure you wouldn’t be casually reading this site, so we’ll skip that and address the issues we can treat.
General Achilles Injury Treatment and Prevention
Unless you’ve experienced some sort of Achilles rupture, Achilles injuries often start with a stiffness or soreness that increases in intensity until it has been treated. Here are a couple steps that we hope will get you back on the road.
Give It Some Rest. If you’ve got an Achilles tendon injury, oftentimes the best thing you can do for it is give it a rest. Stop doing the activity that caused the initial injury and make sure not to partake in any similar activities as well. Sometimes your pain will go away in a week, but if you have a more serious issue you might need to give yourself up to a month off. The rest sounds bad, but you can keep yourself in shape with other activities like swimming or moderate cycling.
Ice. It’s a tried and true method that reduces degeneration and minimizes the selling. Use the old RICE rule of rest, ice, compression and elevation and those 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off rotations could speed your recovery.
Stretch Your Calf Muscles. Tight calf muscles can create a ripple effect that results in tight hip muscles, back muscles, and other leg muscles. Stretch your calves and other muscles for 20 minutes per day to keep yourself limber. You can also stretch your muscles by strengthening their opposing muscle groups, so consider that as an option as well. For example, if you strengthen your anterior tibialis (small muscle on the front of the lower leg) your calf will see positive effects that mimic stretching.
Focus on the Eccentric. Concentrating on the eccentric (lowering rather than raising) portion of calf raises will give you a full stretch of your achilles tendon. If you don’t have a gym membership, try doing calf raises with your body weight on a stair and concentrate on getting a full stretch with every repetition.
Come Back Gradually. After you’ve given yourself some time off jump back into your routine slowly. Don’t expect yourself to jump back on the bandwagon where you were before, and if you start to feel the injury nag at you again, stop.
Physical Therapy. If none of these solutions solve your problems, it’s time to consult a professional and seek out some specialty orthotics or a physical therapist. It might seem like an inconvenience, but solving your Achilles problems could make a huge difference in the long run.
The Right Kind of Shoes
Wearing incorrect footwear can often result in injuries like Achilles tendon issues. Make sure that your shoes are in reasonable condition (the outsole hasn’t worn out completely, the support hasn’t failed you, etc). You can also see our Running Shoes 101 Guide to make sure that you’re wearing the right kind of shoes for you.
In addition to good fit, you should also consider the following factors, as they are particularly important when it comes to Achiles tendon injuries.
The Right Heel Height. Having the right heel height is especially important for runners with Achilles tendon injuries. Make sure that your shoes have a heel cushion that’s comfortable. Most running shoes elevate your heel a bit naturally, and that’s a good thing. Make sure that your your heels don’t sink lower than the front of your foot, as this is especially problematic for runner’s who suffer from Achilles tendon issues.
At the same time, too much heel height can constrict your range of motion. If your heel is lifted in excess it can reduce your overall range of motion and eventually shorten your calf muscle and Achilles tendon, leaving you with weaker calves and an Achilles that’s prone to injury.
Anti- Pronation Shoes. Excessive pronation can decrease the muscle activity in the subtalar joint (just below the ankle) and Achilles tendon. This makes people especially prone to injury, so make sure you have an anti-pronation shoe to counter the issue. Runner’s often call these kinds of shoes Motion Control shoes and they may save you from a lot of pain.
The Most Important Point
The most important thing, when it comes to any injury in the world of running, is to pay attention to your body. We all experience pain, but knowing the difference between soreness and injury is especially important, and when you start to feel that something is wrong, correct the issue early. All said and done, we hope this guide will keep your Achilles safe and you on the road for miles to come.