Achilles Pain? You’re not alone!

If you’ve ever experienced pain in your heel and or between your heel and calf while walking or running, or stiffness in the area when you wake up in the morning, you could be dealing with Achilles’ tendinopathy. If so, you are not alone. This type of injury is common in runners. In fact, studies have found found that Achilles tendon injuries account 5-12% of all running injuries!)  In this blog, we’ll help you understand the role of the Achilles and why it’s important to keep healthy (especially if you are a runner!), and better yet, what you can do to prevent and manage future Achilles injuries! 

If you have Achilles pain, you’ll probably want to know: 

  • What is Achilles tendinopathy
  • What does the Achilles tendon do? 
  • Symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy
  • Treatment of Achilles tendinopathy
  • How to prevent Achilles tendinopathy
  • 3 of our favorite exercises to help prevent Achilles pain
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What is Achilles Tendinopathy?

Achilles tendinopathy is a condition that affects the Achilles tendon, which is the largest tendon in the human body, connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. It is a common condition among runners and can be caused by overuse or repetitive stress on the tendon, especially in the spring when we start running after the winder. In this condition, the tendon becomes inflamed, thickened, and degenerated, leading to pain and reduced function.

lower leg gastrocnemius muscles soleus muscle achilles tendon

What does the Achilles tendon do?

The Achilles tendon is responsible for transmitting the force from the calf muscles to the foot during running and jumping. Therefore, runners are particularly prone to Achilles tendopathy due to the repetitive and high-impact nature of these activities. Additionally, factors such as improper footwear, inadequate warm-up, and abrupt changes in training volume or intensity can increase the risk of developing this condition.

Symptoms of Achilles tendonpathy

Symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy typically include pain and stiffness in the Achilles tendon area, particularly after running or jumping. There may also be swelling and tenderness in the affected area, and in severe cases, a noticeable thickening of the tendon.

Treatment of Achilles tendinopathy

If you fear you may have an achilles injury, it is best to get treatment sooner rather than trying to run through the pain. If left untreated for too long, the pain can become chronic.  This study (among many others) found that early management and rehabilitation for runners with new-onset Achilles tendinopathy is the best way to prevent the development of persistent symptoms. 

The treatment of Achilles tendinopathy may involve a combination of initial deloading, progressive strength, physical therapy (including Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy), and very occasionally medication. Physical therapy may involve targeted modalities, gradual loading, footwear modifications, and running/ training tips.

How to prevent Achilles tendinopathy

Prevention is key to avoiding Achilles tendinopathy in runners. This includes wearing proper footwear with good support, gradually increasing training volume and intensity, incorporating progressively heavier strength training and warm-up exercises into pre- and post-run routines, and maintaining overall fitness through cross-training activities.

3 of our favorite exercises to help prevent Achilles pain

  1. Eccentric Heel raise: Use enough weight that you are fatigued in 6-12 reps (may need a fair amount of weight). You can make this easier by reducing weight or doing it on flat ground
  2. Toe walks with weight: Use a dumbbell or kettlebell to make it challenging and walk across the room
  3. Pogo Hops: Start with 30 seconds and increase to longer bouts over time. Hops help to improve the “stiffness” of the Achilles tendon to help them handle load more efficiently.
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Eccentric Heel Raise

Toe walks with weight

Pogo Hops

The take away...

In conclusion, Achilles tendinopathy is a common condition among runners, caused by overuse and repetitive stress on the Achilles tendon. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, and swelling in the affected area. Treatment involves active rest, physical therapy, and medication, while prevention involves proper footwear, gradual training, and strengthening exercises. Runners should be mindful of this condition and take steps to prevent its occurrence. 

If you are unsure if you your symptoms point to Achilles tendinopathy or if physical therapy can help, schedule a FREE 20 minute phone consultation with one of our running specialist PTs today! 

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