Achilles is the large tendon connecting the calf muscles to the back of the heel bone. It can get tight when overworked. This causes inflammation, known as Achilles tendonitis.
Over time, a layer of scar tissue can cover the tendon. If the inflamed Achilles is stressed, it may tear or rupture. This causes an Achilles heel injury.
Causes of Achilles tendon pain
Common causes of Achilles pain begins with improper stretching of the calf muscles. Which can lead to fatigue or tight calf muscles. This shifts more of the burden of running to the Achilles. This is compounded when increasing mileage too quickly or overtraining.
Excess speed work tends to stress the Achilles more than other types of running.
Old or rigid running shoes can force the Achilles to twist and cause Achilles pain. Flat-footed runners who overpronate are most susceptible to Achilles tendinitis.
Symptoms of Achilles tendinitis
Achilles tendonitis manifests as sharp or dull pain along the back of the tendon close to the heel.
Other common signs:
- limited ankle flexibility
- redness or a burning sensation in the Achilles area
- nodule (a lumpy buildup of scar tissue) on the tendon
- cracking sound with ankle movement
If not treated, runners can develop Achilles tendinosis, which is chronic inflammation with fluid. Over time, this can result in a degenerative tear of the tendon that shows as a lump in the area. If you feel a lump, contact your doctor immediately.
Achilles tendon pain diagnosis
Your doctor can order tests confirming your symptoms are Achilles tendinitis.
X-ray tests will provide clear images of bones. It also shows if the lower part of the Achilles tendon has calcified.
Although not necessary to diagnose Achilles tendinitis, an MRI is used to plan for surgery. An MRI scan can show the severity of tendon damage. And if surgery is needed, your doctor will most likely use the procedure based on the amount of tendon damage.
Achilles tendinitis treatment
If you feel a lump on your Achilles, go to your doctor immediately.
Apply ice to the area for 15 – 20 minutes. Do this several times a day until the inflammation subsides.
Use anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or anti-inflammatory creams.
If the injury doesn’t respond to treatment in two weeks, see a doctor, physical therapist, or orthopedic surgeon.
Treating the root of the problem is much more important. One common reason is tightness in the calf muscles. Stretch your calves or roll them out with a foam roller.
Prevention of Achilles pain
To prevent Achilles tendinitis, it’s vital to strengthen your feet and calf muscles.
Achilles tendon stretches
The best stretches for the Achilles is super easy to do.
- Stand on the balls of your feet on stairs or curb
- Drop both heels down
- Hold for 10 seconds
To increase the stretch intensity, keep one foot flat and lower the other heel.
Achilles tendinitis is linked to overstriding. Which is when the foot touches down in front of your body. To avoid this, try focusing on shortening your stride and speeding your cadence to avoid heavy heel-striking.
Other preventative measures include trying more supportive shoes or orthotic insert to help control pronation and incorporating more rest and recovery days into your training schedule.
For chubby runners, make sure to keep your Achilles tendon limber with proper stretching. When you experience an injury, deal with it promptly so you can get back to training.