Achilles tendinitis is incredibly common these days. It is largely thought that in the general (non-Olympian) population this could be due to the way we use our bodies day-to-day. We are now increasingly sedentary and sit more than ever, generally exercising in short, intensive bursts.
Think about it, even if you train for one to two hours every day, what are you doing with the remaining 22-23?
Intensive exercise, especially if it’s high impact, high intensity and explosive, while indisputably essential for our health, can put a lot of strain on our joints and soft tissues, especially if not combined with an effective warm up and cool down. Sadly the prevalence also increases with age and our tendons losing some of their natural flexibility.
What kind of activities can lead to Achilles tendinitis?
- Runners are 10 times more likely to experience Achilles tendinitis than age-matched controls
- Rapidly increasing running mileage without proper planning/training
- Excessive hill or sprint training
- Poor running gait and/or inappropriate footwear
- Racket sports
- Track and field sports
- Volleyball, netball, basketball and similar sports
- Football (soccer), Rugby, NFL, AFL and other ball sports, both contact and non-contact
- Non-active individuals can however also be prone to Achilles tendinitis
What is Achilles tendinitis?
Your Achilles is the large, thick tendon that attaches your calf muscles into the base of your heel. If you palpate the back, bottom half of your calf you will be able to feel it.
Tendons are flexible, but unlike muscles, they do not contract and relax. This means they can easily become aggravated under excess stress, causing them to become tight, painful and inflamed.
If the issue isn’t treated and becomes chronic, a covering of scar tissue can build up, further reducing flexibility, increasing the risk of muscle and/or tendon tear, or worst case scenario, a total rupture.
Signs and symptoms
- A dull or sharp pain anywhere from the base of your heel up to the calf muscle
- Calf tightness and reduced ankle flexibility
- Redness, heat and swelling over the tendon
- A lumpy area of the tendon where scar tissue has built up
- Flicking/clicking of the tendon on movement
Maintain calf length and flexibility by:
- Dynamic stretching to warm up before exercise, static stretching to cool down
- Regular foam rolling
- Sports massage
Walking and running gait analysis can be useful if you are considering stepping up your training/mileage or you are coming back from an Achilles injury.
What should you do if you experience Achilles pain?
- DON’T exercise through it. Stop, take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (if you don’t have any health issues that may be aggravated by doing so) and ice the area for 15 - 20 mins several times a day until the inflammation subsides.
- DON’T return to running until you are able to do pain free heel raises only on the affected leg. Then gradually build up your speed and distance, always starting on flat surfaces.
- Keep fit in the meantime with low impact, non-weight bearing exercises like swimming, pool running and cycling.
- Consult a qualified physiotherapist to identify the cause and prevent future episodes, especially if the pain doesn’t subside over a couple of weeks.
- Surgery is rarely indicated unless there is a serious tear or rupture
If you are concerned you have, or are prone to Achilles tendinitis, or would like any other physiotherapy related advice, please feel free to give IFC a shout out!