If you have pain along the back of your leg near your heel, you may have Achilles tendonitis. Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury that commonly occurs in runners and “weekend warriors”.
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. Named after a tragic hero from Greek mythology, it connects your calf muscle to your heel bone to allow you to jump, run and walk.
Achilles tendonitis is most common in middle-aged men, but it can happen to anyone who has a sudden increase in physical activity. The risk is increased if you also have tight calf muscles and/or a flat arch in your foot. Other risk factors include running in worn out shoes, cold weather, frequently running uphill or if you suffer from medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
There are two main types of Achilles tendinitis: insertional and noninsertional. Insertional Achilles tendinitis involves the lower portion of the heel, where the tendon attaches to the heel bone. Noninsertional Achilles tendinitis is when the fibers in the middle portion of the tendon have started to break down with tiny tears, swell, and/or thicken. This type is more often seen in younger, active people. Both types can also cause bone spurs.
Achilles tendonitis should be diagnosed by your doctor. However, if you experienced a sudden “pop” in the back of your calf or heel, this might be something more serious like a ruptured or torn Achilles tendon. If this happens, see your doctor immediately.
RECOVERY AND TREATMENT
More often than not, Achilles tendonitis can be treated without surgery. However, recovery may take a few months. The following will can help you recover and get back in the game.
Rest is always the most important thing when recovering from an injury. Your body needs a break to heal. While taking time off from exercise is recommended, if you just can’t ditch all physical activities, switch to more low-impact ones while you’re recovering. When resting your Achilles, try biking, swimming or using an elliptical machine until you’re fully healed.
Icing the injured area of your Achilles tendon throughout the day can help to reduce the swelling and pain. However, try not to ice it for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication is recommended to help reduce the swelling and pain associated with Achilles tendonitis. These include such drugs as ibuprofen and naproxen. While they will reduce swelling, the do not reduce the thickening for the tendon. If you find yourself taking these medications for more than a month, speak with your doctor.
Exercise might be the cause of Achilles tendonitis, but it can also help prevent it and aid in recovery. The following exercises can help reduce stress on the Achilles tendon:
- Calf stretch
- Calf tightness is a contributing factor to Achilles tendonitis. Strengthening and stretching your calf muscles can help. Try leaning forward against a wall with one knee straight and the heel on the ground. Then place the other leg in front, with the knee bent. Push your hips toward the wall in a controlled fashion and old the position for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat this exercise 20 times for each foot. You should feel a strong pull in the calf during this stretch.
- Bilateral heel drop
- Stand at the edge of a stair with just the front half of your foot on the stair. Make sure you have good balance or hold onto a railing if necessary. Lift your heels off the ground then slowly lower your heels as low as you can go while still on the stair. Repeat this step 20 times. This exercise should be done in a slow and controlled manner, as moving too quickly can potentially injury the tendon.
Supportive shoes and orthotics
If you’re experiencing chronic Achilles pain, you may want to invest in supportive shoes or shoe inserts. These can be helpful if your Achilles tendonitis lasts longer than a few months.
Electric muscle stimulation
Electric muscle stimulators are great for helping sore muscles recover. Compex can be used to help relax the muscles, increase blood flood and decrease pain associated with Achilles tendonitis. Take look below to see what programs to use and the best pad placement for relief.