By Rehan Iqbal
Have you been suffering from pain and soreness around the heel which is worse in the morning and painful after exercise? Are you trying to keep running without letting it get the better of you? Read on to see if we can get to the bottom of what you might be going through
Have you ever suffered from tightness or pain around the Achilles, which makes walking difficult and jogging or running downright torture?
Is it worse in the mornings and does something as simple as walking downstairs make you grimace in pain?
If so, there’s a good chance you have Achilles tendinitis, a common, but painful, lower-body injury that can have a huge impact on your life.
What is it?
The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone and it helps you to run, walk, jump, jog and pretty much everything you can think of, that involves flexion and extension of the foot, from standing on your tiptoes to climbing downstairs.
Achilles tendinitis is a common injury that occurs when the large tendon (band of tissue) which runs down the back of your leg, to your heel, becomes inflamed, irritated and uncomfortable.
What are the Symptoms?
There are many different symptoms with Achilles tendinitis and as with most injuries, some symptoms may be worse than others.
The pain experienced with Achilles tendinitis is often far worse in the morning although it can be intermittent throughout the day. After a period of inactivity, the tendon will usually feel stiff again causing the pain to come back.
In some cases, the pain can be so bad that it impacts your day to day life resulting in you having to take time away from work.
Persisting to exercise as normal when suffering from Achilles tendinitis could lead to an Achilles tendon rupture and is often signified by a loud pop, this is far worse than Achilles tendinitis.
What Causes Achilles Tendinitis?
Unfortunately, Achilles tendinitis can happen to anyone, whether you regularly take part in exercise or not, although it does seem to be more common with people that do things quickly.
Activities such as these involve pushing off quickly which can overload the Achilles tendon, causing injury, and although it can happen to anyone, there are also a few groups who are more likely to get Achilles tendonitis, these include:
How Long Does it Take to Recover?
Unfortunately, there is no real rule when trying to determine how long it will take to recover from Achilles tendinitis as it could take a matter of weeks or take months before you are fully recovered.
If you think you have Achilles tendinitis you must go and seek medical advice immediately as the longer it goes untreated, the harder it can be to treat the condition and the longer your recovery will be.
The treatment you must undergo will also be dependent on how bad your condition is.
There are then some nonsurgical measures that can help to provide pain relief and that you can take at home to help your condition.
- 1Rest: It goes without saying but to ease the pain, first you should stop doing the thing which is causing it. If you regularly take part in high intensity sprinting sessions (or any other activity that causes you pain), you should stop. It doesn’t have to mean that all activity must give way, but by switching to lower impact exercise, you can start to reduce the wear and tear on your Achilles tendon.
- 2Ice: Icing the affected area is a great way of helping to reduce the swelling and easing the pain felt in the Achilles. Doing this for 20 minutes at a time should help, although you should stop if the area becomes numb. You should also take care not to put ice packs directly onto the skin and you should always use a small towel or cloth for protection. However, using an ice cube and running it up and down the affected area has proven to be useful for reducing soreness and swelling in the affected area.
- 3Drugs: Anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen can help with pain management and reduce the swelling, however before taking any medication you should first consult with a medical professional. You should also avoid taking the medications for longer than 1 month without speaking with a medical professional.
- 4Stretching: Some exercises can help to strengthen the muscles around the calf and as a result help to ease the pain in the Achilles tendon.
- 5Calf Raises/Heel Drop: Standing on the edge of your stairs, with your heel hanging off the step, raise your heel up, going onto your tiptoes and stretching the calf then slowly lower back down to the bottom, allowing the heel to drop below the step, but with the front part of your foot still on the step. Repeating this 15-20 times, ensure you also take care, moving slow and steady through the move to avoid further aggravation to the Achilles tendon.
- 6Calf Stretch: With your hands against the wall and one leg forward (slightly bent) keep your other leg straight, behind you, with your heel on the ground. As you move your bodyweight towards the wall the back heel will begin to stretch, holding this for 10 seconds at a time, for sets of 5-10 (on each foot) is a great way to stretch the calf muscle.
- 7Banded Stretch: Using a yoga band sit with your leg straight out in front of you and wrap the band around the ball of your feet, use the band to pull the foot back towards you, stretching out the calf muscle. Hold this for 10 seconds and repeat for 5 sets on each foot.
- 8Correct footwear: One of the causes of Achilles tendonitis can be wearing incorrect footwear. The wrong shoes for the activity you’re taking part in or shoes that are harder at the back (which irritates the heel) can also be to blame. By wearing the right footwear and ensuring the shoes fit properly you begin taking steps to reduce the pain and irritation felt when exercising. Some people may also benefit from heel lifts as they can take the strain away from the tendon and also move the heel away from the back of the shoe or reduce the irritation felt at the back of the shoe.
First and foremost the advice in this article should not proceed that given by your doctor, as a medically trained professional should always be your first port of call, however, you should now have a clearer idea about what exactly Achilles tendonitis is, and if you’ve been experiencing the symptoms described above but you weren’t sure what the problem was, you may now have some clarity.
Recovery could take anywhere from weeks to months and no case is alike as the severity of each condition may be slightly different, but what you should be starting to realize is that if you’ve been experiencing pain, now is the time to stop and begin the recovery process.
It may mean pushing back some runs or looking for additional, lighter forms of training, but one thing that is for sure, it’s worth doing now.
Because nobody wants to hear that pop in the back of their leg as their Achilles ruptures and they end up causing even more long term damage.