Whether you are a professional marathon runner or simply enjoy a recreational jog it is likely that you have experienced pain in the Achilles tendon at some point. The pain will generally be most prominent during warm-up, settle down significantly as you run only to return with a vengeance after you have cooled down after running! If it continues to worsen, it can become very debilitating and prevent from running altogether!
This article will help to arm you with the anatomical information and practical knowledge necessary to help recognise Achilles tendon pain and how to manage it!
Firstly, it is important that you know the anatomy of your Achilles!
The Achilles tendon joins the calf muscle to the heel bone. Tendons are a soft tissue structure made up of the elastic material called collagen and always attach muscles to bone. The role of the Achilles tendon is to transfer the power produced by your calf muscles through to the heel bone to move the ankle joint and provide you with forwards thrust as you run.
Pain in this area can be as a result of tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon) or tearing. It can sometimes start very suddenly after a big load through the tendon, such as falling into a pothole as you run. More commonly, pain in the Achilles develops a gradually over time as a result of overuse and worsens unless managed appropriately.
Things that can predispose you to Achilles tendon pain are:
- Poor foot mechanics (corrective orthotics or well prescribed sports shoes can help enormously)
- Stiffness of the ankle joints (this can occur after an acute ankle injury such as a rolled ankle)
- A significant and sudden increase in training load (such as further distance, increased regularity, or extra hills etc.)
- Weakness of the hip or core muscles
To remedy the situation there are 5 simple things that you can do:
- Stretching may aggravate the tendon! Avoid dropping your heel off a step or doing strong calf stretching as this is too aggressive for a sore or damaged tendon
- Mobilising the sciatic nerve system before rising from bed can help with morning stiffness
- Avoid high impact exercises like jumping, skipping, running (especially soft sand running!)
- A small heel raise can help alleviate pain and overstretching in the short term (put one in both shoes!)
- Get some professional advice from a physiotherapist. There are a number of important exercises that can be done to improve your tendon pain and get you back to running ASAP!!
Post by Angus Tadman (B.App.Sc Phty Hons I) and Catherine Stephens (B.App.Sc Phty)