Achilles tendon pain during cycling
The Achilles tendon is the tendon at the back of the ankle, connecting the calf muscle (gastrocnemius) to the heel. If your Achilles is sore during or after riding you may have Achilles tendinopathy. Inflammation, micro-tears or compromised blood flow, often caused by overuse, could put a stop to your riding season. Quite often it is caused by a sudden increase in training volume and intensity, and particularly hill sessions.
The ankle and calf muscles work together to transmit and dissipate the forces generated from the foot/pedal. Overloading a weak, fatigued or tight calf muscle can strain the Achilles tendon. Pain develops because of weakness or dysfunction in the tendon rather than what was previously thought to be an inflammatory reaction. This can be a challenging area to treat due to the tendon’s poor blood flow, which may need longer recovery periods, so it’s best to tackle this injury as early as possible.
MANAGEMENT AND REHABILITATION
Rest, icing, and taping or strapping can relieve symptoms in the early/acute stages. You may need to reduce your training intensity and volume, and the injury might even require complete rest for a few weeks, depending on pain and the severity of the injury. The earlier you get treatment, the shorter your time off the bike. Soft tissue massage can be used to release tight structures throughout the lower limb and back. Physiotherapy and rehabilitation treatment will be focused on mobilising tight structures and strengthening your calves, hamstrings, glutes and core. It may also include some acupuncture.
Stretching of the calf muscle complex is essential to maintain good flexibility and mobility. This can be achieved through routine daily stretching and regular massage. A weak posterior chain (the muscles that work together along the back of your body including the back extensors, gluteus muscles, hamstrings, calves) can also be a cause of Achilles tendon problems.
Strengthening your calf muscles eccentrically is important. This is the ability of the muscle to control a contraction as it lengthens and stretches, the opposite of the common concentric strength (calf raises) where the muscle shortens and bulges as it contracts. Research has shown that eccentric calf strength is essential for Achilles tendon rehabilitation and injury prevention. As cycling, and many other things we do in our everyday lives, involves hunching forwards over your handlebars or desk, your posterior chain, the extensors that hold you upright, have a tendency to become weak. Strengthening the posterior chain muscles using exercises like bridging, planks, deadlifts, superman and swiss ball exercises will all contribute towards reducing Achilles injury risk.
A progressive strengthening programme, including effective stretches is crucial for recovery. A bike assessment may also help to correct altered coding patterns. Having your saddle too high keeps the foot plantar-flexed (toe pointed down), causing constant contraction of the calf muscles and load on the tendon. Lowering your seat and making sure that your cleats aren’t pushed all the way forward towards the toe will help to even out the muscles you’re using to pedal. Moving your cleats backwards just a little may help. You may also be dropping your heel too much on the down stroke, over stretching and loading the tendon. Try to keep a flat peddle stroke.
If your suffering from a cycling injury or need any advice, help or support please don’t hesitate to contact us.
The information contained in this article is intended as general guidance and information only and should not be relied upon as a basis for planning individual medical care or as a substitute for specialist medical advice in each individual case.