You know a medical condition is common when it enters the lexicon as an idiom! Since ancient times, an “Achilles heel” has meant a weak point, in spite of overall strength. The important thing to know is that Achilles tendonitis doesn’t have to be your Achilles heel. Let’s talk about a few ways you can help prevent Achilles pain, and when it’s time to come see us!
What is Achilles Tendonitis?
Inflammation of the Achilles tendon, usually at the attachment point in the back of the heel. This usually takes place because the gastrocsoleus (“gastroc”) muscle in the calf is too tight.
The “watershed” area of the tendon is very “avascular.” In other words, it doesn’t have a lot of blood supply, which makes it more prone to injury and slower to heal.
Heel pain (especially first thing in the morning) is one of the most common symptoms of Achilles tendonitis. Another tell-tale sign is tendon pain or stiffness during or after exercise.
More serious issues, such as complete tears of the tendon can result from injuries in sports, at home, and in the workplace.
If you’re just starting to experience problems, you might have a chance to prevent Achilles pain by following a few key habits.
1. Do a Basic “Runner’s Stretch”
Aside from those of us into yoga, many people regard stretching as a boring afterthought to be skipped or rushed through half-heartedly.
What’s really boring is sitting on the couch for weeks on end while you lose fitness due to an Achilles tendon injury.
The most important stretch you can do to relieve tightness in the gastroc muscle and Achilles tendon is the classic “runner’s stretch.” (See the image above).
Press against the wall with your heel behind you, leaning in. Start slow and ease into and out of the stretch. Don’t bounce or force anything to go further than its willing to go. Three reps of 30 seconds per side is a great baseline to shoot for after physical activity. Don’t rush it, enjoy the chance to catch your breath for a few minutes!
2. Wear Good Shoes to Prevent Achilles Pain
Bad shoes are everywhere! Some have such weak soles that they can fold up like the proverbial “cheap suit.” Others provide little lateral stability, and most shoes have very flimsy insoles, which is a big problem for people with flat feet or high arches.
Being frugal is great, but “cheaping out” on shoes can be a case of being “penny-wise and pound foolish!”
Put any shoe you consider through a few tests. Try flexing it from heel to to . The front third of the shoe can have a little bend (that’s also where you foot bends), but behind that, it should be very difficult, nearly impossible to bend.
The “twist test” can give you an idea of the torsional stability of the shoe. Take both ends of the shoe and twist them in opposite directions as if you were wringing out a wet cloth. If it twists easily, don’t buy that shoe.
Lastly, especially for those with Achilles problems, look for a shoe with an appropriate heel to toe drop. If your heel rides low in your shoe, it can cause additional strain on the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. We can also put heel lifts inside the shoe itself to relieve some of that tension.
3. Use a Foam Roller
Using a foam roller to target calf muscles can help break up stiffness and inflammation that stretching can miss.
It can be a bit of a workout to prop yourself up to put enough weight on your calf muscles to get an effective roll. If you have issues maintaining that position, a roller stick is a fairly decent alternative to allow you to roll your calf muscle while sitting.
Foam rolling, like stretching, should be done slowly and thoroughly. Vary your position slightly to target both the sides and back of the calf muscles. Doing this for several minutes each day can really help prevent Achilles pain!
When Should You See a Podiatrist?
Unfortunately, not every case of Achilles tendonitis is fixable by stretching, rolling and good shoes. If your pain is severe, or your symptoms have continued for more than two weeks, give us a call. We can determine the extent of your injury and give you the help you need to heal as quickly and fully as possible.
We start with conservative treatment approaches focusing on footwear, stretching and pain relief, but for severe or chronic cases of Achilles tendonitis, we have an option that can succeed when other methods fail. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) can help your body use the natural healing properties of blood plasma with growth factors to reduce inflammation and help rebuild damaged tissue in the tendon.
Is Achilles Tendonitis Causing You Pain?
The sooner you see us, the sooner you’ll start feeling better!