Your Achilles tendon is the biggest, strongest tendon in your body, but that doesn’t make it immune to problems, especially since it’s working with every step you take. Like most other tendons and muscles, your Achilles tendon is prone to inflammation due to overuse, particularly when there’s a sudden increase in repetitive activities involving your feet. And, of course, this kind of ongoing stress can lead to an injury of your tendon fibers.
So, how do athletes or those of us with pronate feet or tight calf muscles reduce our chances of developing Achilles tendonitis? This post looks at your Achilles tendon and how it works, who is susceptible to developing Achilles tendonitis, how to reduce your chances of contracting Achilles tendonitis, and when to see a podiatrist.
What role does the Achilles tendon play in our body?
As mentioned, this tendon – also known as the heel cord – is the biggest, strongest tendon in your body. It’s a thick band of tissue that runs down the back of the lower leg, connecting the calf muscle to the heel. And what it does is facilitate walking by assisting in raising your heel off the ground and is used with each step you take. It’s also used to push off when you run, climb stairs, jump, and stand on your tiptoes.
Unfortunately, this strong tendon is prone to inflammation due to overuse and imbalance with the adjacent tendons on the front of the leg, foot, and ankle. The inflammation is typically caused by a sudden increase of repetitive activity involving the Achilles tendon. What this then does is put overwhelming stress on the tendon leading to micro-injury of the tendon fibers. In addition, ongoing stress on the tendon prevents the body from repairing the injured tissue, which results in persistent pain. This is why it’s essential not to ignore any tendon pain during your exercise regimen and instead take the time to rest and recover.
Who is susceptible to getting Achilles tendonitis?
Athletes are considered highly susceptible to developing Achilles tendinitis, especially those that put stress on their feet and ankles. You can picture a runner or tennis player’s repetitive movements and how this can lead to tendon issues. Of course, it’s not just those who are exercising daily that are at risk. “Weekend warriors” or those who are less conditioned and participate in sports only on weekends or infrequently tend to develop Achilles tendinitis or even Achilles tendon rupture.
Needless to say, it’s not just athletes or active folks in the firing line. People with excessive pronation or flat feet tend to develop Achilles tendinitis due to the increase in demands placed on the tendon by simply walking. In addition, if these individuals wear unsupportive shoes, the Achilles tendon is aggravated even further due to lack of support of overpronation.
Having overly tight calf muscles can increase the probability of Achilles tendinitis along with being overweight. Both issues increase the stress on the Achilles tendon, especially when there is a sudden start of vigorous exercising or physical activities.
Another cause of Achilles tendinitis is a bone spur on the back of the heel bone where the Achilles tendon inserts can rub against the tendon and cause pain. Bone spurs typically form due to increased stress or tightness around the tendon’s insertion over some time.
What’s the worst that can happen?
If you “let it go” and don’t address your tendon issues, the condition can worsen and lead to further degeneration of the Achilles tendon, which is called Achilles tendinosis. When this happens, the tendon loses its organized structure and can develop microscopic tears. You most certainly don’t want this to happen. The Achilles tendon can weaken if it does, making it more vulnerable to a tear or rupture requiring surgical repair. A total rupture of the Achilles tendon is highly problematic and leads to a long recovery road. It’s always in your best interest to seek treatment early on to prevent your symptoms from getting worse.
5 Ways to Consider How to Prevent Achilles Tendonitis:
- Warming up before exercising or playing sports will help reduce your risk of Achilles tendinitis. Focus on stretching your calf muscles in a seated or standing position.
- Gradually increase the intensity and length of your exercises over time rather than all at once. As mentioned, growing activities too quickly can overwhelm your tendon, creating more stress and strain.
- Mix up your workouts to include low-impact activities like swimming or yoga to give your body a break. Other low-impact physical activities include an elliptical and rowing machine that provides excellent training without adding stress to your Achilles’ tendons. Swimming or cycling is also a great option to decrease the impact on the Achilles tendon.
- Wear appropriate shoe gear that provides adequate cushion and support. Avoid running or exercising in shoes that are worn out or old. Be sure to replace your shoes periodically to maintain good support. Avoid zero-drop or negative heel drop shoes, which can cause strain on the Achilles.
- Rest at the first sign of pain! Trying to “power through” workouts or activities can lead to an increase in irritation to the tendon leading to a longer recovery. Don’t be afraid to take a few days off to allow the body to heal your Achilles tendon.
When is it time to see a podiatrist?
Without a doubt, seeing a specialist is recommended to treat your injury and prevent more severe and chronic damage. A podiatrist or foot and ankle specialist is trained to help alleviate your symptoms and avoid a lingering inflamed tendon.
For example, let’s say you start preparing for the Dallas Marathon or have increased your physical activities and develop pain in your Achilles tendon shortly after. Try to take a break for a couple of days to allow your body to repair the site. If the pain persists when trying to restart, this is when you should consider seeking professional help.
You should aim to avoid the vicious cycle of not allowing your Achilles tendon to heal before jumping back into physical activities, which will often lead to further pain. Days turn into weeks, weeks to turn into months, and your Achilles tendon is still not 100%. At this point, the tendinitis has evolved into tendinosis, which makes you more prone to a tear or rupture.
What treatment can I expect at Yeargain Foot & Ankle?
YF&A are experts when it comes to the management of Achilles tendinitis. This is one of the most common sports injuries we come across, and we have a protocol ready to help alleviate your pain and get you back to training or doing the activity you love the most.
We can prescribe medication to decrease your pain right away and offer topical sports cream available in the office on the same day of your visit. We also carry night splints or stretching boots, Achilles compression sleeves, and we will provide a tailored list of supportive shoe gear and sandals to assist your recovery and prevent future flare-ups.
Furthermore, we offer custom 3D scanned orthotics to give you more support to fit into most of your shoes. Physical therapy may be recommended for those who have dealt with pain for an extended time or have a recurrence. If nonsurgical methods don’t prevail after six months, you may need surgery. An MRI can help evaluate your tendon and reveal if a bone spur, small tear, or rupture could be the cause of persistent pain.
Give Yeargain Foot & Ankle a Call
We’ll work with you to get you back on your feet, pain-free, and back to doing the activities you love! If you are suffering from Achilles tendon pain, act fast; book an appointment with Yeargain Foot & Ankle today. Dr. Yeargain and Dr. Agyen will put you on the path to recovery as soon as possible.
To book an appointment, call (214) 824-3851 or book an appointment via our contact page. We look forward to treating you. You’ll find Yeargain Foot & Ankle at 3801 Gaston Ave. Suite 330 across the street from the Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.