Keep your Achilles tendon from becoming your “Achilles heel”

Your Achilles tendons are the largest and strongest tendons in your body. When working properly, they transform the force generated in your calf muscles into movement of your ankles, allowing you to do things like walk, run and jump and even stand in certain positions. 

But, because we constantly use our Achilles tendons and they receive limited blood flow from the rest of our bodies, it’s also one of the most common areas of injury as a result of overuse, particularly in athletes.

Often felt somewhere between the calf muscle and the heel, painful injuries such as Achilles tendonitis, tendinopathy or tear can seriously impair your ability to move through the world. Read on to learn how to keep your Achilles in peak performance—or how to get them back in shape.

Preventing injury

Some of us are more prone to Achilles injury. Individuals with naturally flat feet can experience additional strain on their Achilles tendon, and injury becomes more common for us all as we age and our tendons become thicker and less flexible.

And, while any repeated activity involving your Achilles tendon can lead to overuse and injury, some exercises can exacerbate the issue more than others.

  • Get in a proper warmup. Like any muscle, your tendons also require a warm-up before intense or sustained activity. Ease into workouts that place extra stress on your Achilles, such as running or sports like tennis, which require quick stops and changes of direction.
  • Pay attention to your calf muscles. Your Achilles connects directly to your calf, and the two work together to keep your lower legs moving. If your calves are weak, tight or injured, your Achilles tendons are probably picking up the slack—and taking on extra stress.
  • Wear the right shoes. Old, poorly fitting and high-heeled shoes rarely have the adequate cushioning for your heel and arch support that help reduce the stress on your Achilles. An arch support might be a helpful addition to your favorite pair of gym sneakers.
  • Give your Achilles a break. Alternate high-impact activities with lower-impact ones, such as cycling or swimming. Taking the time to stretch your Achilles before and after any activity you do will help you maintain flexibility.  

Road to recovery

Of course, even if you take all the precautions above, there’s still a chance that you may end up experiencing pain and swelling, tightness or limited range of motion in your Achilles related to overuse. Depending on the severity of your injury, there are a range of treatments that might help you feel better. 

Talk to an expert

If your pain is sharp and is inhibiting your activity, it’s time to talk to the experts. Your Orthology team will assess the level of your injury and guide you to any additional treatments you might need on the path to recovery beyond the traditional NSAIDS such as aspirin and ibuprofen and RICE—rest, ice, compression and elevation.

Your provider will likely perform hands-on techniques to aid in speeding up the healing process. They’ll also prescribe you isometric or eccentric exercises, which are aimed at both strengthening and lengthening the tendons and surrounding muscular structure in your lower leg to reduce the likelihood of reinjury.