Achilles tendon pain running
WHAT IS ACHILLES TENSONOSIS
The Achilles Tendon is the largest tendon in the body absorbing load, enduring strain and risks injury and rupture from a variety of activities and sports including running, jumping and acceleration/deceleration. Achilles Tendonosis refers to a degenerative change in the tendon usually occurring from failed healing or repetitive trauma to the tendon resulting in the tendon tissue becoming damaged, weak, and inelastic.
WHAT DOES THE ACHILLES TENDON DO?
The Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are energy-absorbing/releasing structures that are working throughout each stride. They absorb the load as your foot impacts the ground (loads of often 3x your body weight) and convert the energy to propel you during the push-off phase of a stride (where forces are as high as 7x your body weight).
The Achilles tendon and calf muscle are therefore critical for efficient and effective running. The Achilles tendon is prone to overuse purely by the nature of its function. Pain occurs 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 at the earliest point possible!
- Pain close to the heel, which is often sharp, poking and incapacitating.
- Pain along the Achilles tendon, at the back of the lower leg.
- Occasionally there can be mild swelling at the base of the tendon (near the heel) and redness.
- If you pinch the Achilles and it’s very sore, then the source of the problem is likely to be the tendon.
- Pain during and after running (Stop! This is not an injury you can run through)
- In chronic cases there can be thickening or a thickened ‘lump’ along the tendon, especially when compared to the uninjured leg.
The Achilles tendon is the extension of the calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus, where it attaches to the back of the heel and is responsible for plantar flexion (pointing your toes). Sometimes excessively tight, weak calves are the culprit.
Tight lower legs put added strain on the Achilles tendon, and over the course of many months of hard training, this overuse injury can develop. 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 tendinopathy.
Constantly running on hard surfaces like concrete or tarmac can contribute to Achilles tendon pain as the loads absorbed by the tendon are greater than running on grass or dirt roads.
Unsupportive footwear can overburden the Achilles tendon over time, as it must work even harder to control ankle movement whilst running. Worn out shoes with inadequate cushioning can exacerbate Achilles tendon issues as they add no benefit in absorbing load during heel strike.
Rapid increase in volume and/or intensity or training can have the same effect much more quickly, so it’s important to pay attention to both your feet and your sessions—especially when you’re training hard. Severe pronation, foot instability, a leg- length discrepancy and muscle asymmetries can also contribute to Achilles pain.
Rest, icing, and strapping can relieve symptoms in the early/acute stages. Assesment to confirm the stage of injury and unerlying causes is also important. Reducing training intensity and volume may be required, possibly even 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 running in the ‘long run’.
Soft tissue massage can be used to release tight structures throughout the lower limb and back. Physical therapy treatment will mobilise tight structures, possibly use acupuncture and prescribe rehab exercises to strengthen your calves, hamstrings, glutes and core. Stretching is also a key component to rehab. Eccentric heel drop exercises (lengthening under load), taught by your personal therapist, will be an essential part of your rehab plan and recovery. Advice about your shoes, orthotics and running technique can also help your long term recovery.
Importantly, keep an eye on your training. Don’t do too much, or go too hard, too quickly!
Achilles tendinopathy often starts as a simple feeling of stiffness in the tendon. If you take steps to increase flexibility, strengthen the ankle and calf muscles and decrease stress on the tendon at the first sign of stiffness, it’s possible to prevent the problem from escalating.
One of the easiest ways to prevent Achilles tendinopathy is to keep the tendon strong and flexible. Regular strengthening of the calf, especially eccentric exercises will be beneficial, along with a regular stretching programme.
It is important to strengthen the entire limb from the pelvis, core, hip, gluteus muscles and hamstrings as these will all ensure the entire kinematic chain is working efficiently and minimising overload of the Achilles tendon. Then address any underlying risk factors (like shoes, orthotics) and finally a key prevention strategy is monitoring your training capacity. Slow and steady wins the race!
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 advice. If you are suffering with Achilles Tendon injury, contact us today for free advice and support.