The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in your body, connecting your calf muscles to the back of your heel. Virtually all of the force generated when you ?toe off? the ground during running is transmitted by the Achilles, and this force can be as much as three times your body weight. And the faster you run, the more strain you put on the Achilles tendon. As such, it?s prone to injury in many runners, but particularly those who do a lot of fast training, uphill running, or use a forefoot-striking style. Achilles tendon injuries account for 5-12% of all running injuries, and occur disproportionately in men. This may be because of the faster absolute speeds men tend to train at, or may be due to other biomechanical factors.
When you place a large amount of stress on your Achilles tendon too quickly, it can become inflamed from tiny tears that occur during the activity. Achilles tendonitis is often a result of overtraining, or doing too much too soon. Excessive hill running can contribute to it. Flattening of the arch of your foot can place you at increased risk of developing Achilles tendonitis because of the extra stress placed on your Achilles tendon when walking or running.
The primary symptom of Achilles tendon inflammation is pain in the back of the heel, which initially increases when exercise is begun and often lessens as exercise continues. A complete tear of the Achilles tendon typically occurs with a sudden forceful change in direction when running or playing tennis and is often accompanied by a sensation of having been struck in the back of the ankle and calf with an object such as a baseball bat.
There is enlargement and warmth of the tendon 1 to 4 inches above its heel insertion. Pain and sometimes a scratching feeling may be created by gently squeezing the tendon between the thumb and forefinger during ankle motion. There may be weakness in push-off strength with walking. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can define the extent of degeneration, the degree to which the tendon sheath is involved and the presence of other problems in this area, but the diagnosis is mostly clinical.
The latest studies on Achilles tendonitis recommend a treatment plan that incorporates the following three components. Treatment of the inflammation. Strengthening of the muscles that make up the Achilles tendon using eccentric exercise. These are a very specific type of exercise that has been shown in multiple studies to be a critical component of recovering from Achilles tendonitis. Biomechanical control (the use of orthotics and proper shoes). Shockwave therapy.
Occasionally, conservative management of Achilles tendon conditions fails. This failure is more common in older male patients and those with longstanding symptoms, those who persist in full training despite symptoms or those who have uncorrected predisposing factors. In these cases, surgery may be indicated. It should be remembered, however, that the rehabilitation program, particularly for severe Achilles tendon injuries, is a slow, lengthy program. Surgery is only indicated when there is failure to progress in the rehabilitation program. Surgery should not be considered unless at least six months of appropriate conservative management has failed to lead to improvement.
Warm up slowly by running at least one minute per mile slower than your usual pace for the first mile. Running backwards during your first mile is also a very effective way to warm up the Achilles, because doing so produces a gentle eccentric load that acts to strengthen the tendon. Runners should also avoid making sudden changes in mileage, and they should be particularly careful when wearing racing flats, as these shoes produce very rapid rates of pronation that increase the risk of Achilles tendon injury. If you have a tendency to be stiff, spend extra time stretching. If you?re overly flexible, perform eccentric load exercises preventively. Lastly, it is always important to control biomechanical alignment issues, either with proper running shoes and if necessary, stock or custom orthotics.