The Greek myth of Achilles purports that he was vulnerable only on the pad of one heel! And the phrase “Achilles’ Heel” leads some to think that the Achilles tendon is tiny and restricted to that spot. In fact, rather the opposite is true. It’s quite a long tendon that runs from the bone of your heel right up into your calf muscles… It’s like a long band that lets your foot extend and your toes point downwards.
Unfortunately, the band simile is quite good because, much like a band, the Achilles tendon can rupture – sometimes audibly! It tends to happen during activity in which one jumps, pivots or runs in sudden bursts, such as a game of football, squash, tennis, etc.
Other Achilles tendon injuries are caused by:
- Tendinitis – a condition that causes the tendon to swell
- Overuse of the tendon
- A “too-much, too-soon” approach to increases in activity
- Inadequate stretching before exercise
- Increased stress on the tendon by wearing high heels
- Foot problems such as fallen arches / overpronation
- The muscles or tendons in the leg being too tight
- Sudden bursts of activity, such as starting to sprint
Fortunately, many Achilles tendon injuries heal fairly quickly on their own. Nevertheless, here are a few tips on preventing and treating it!
How do you prevent Achilles tendon injuries?
There are numerous pearls of wisdom to impart on this subject… Much of it seems like common sense – but you do have to remember that, from time to time in biomechanics, you can just have a bit of bad luck!
Bad luck aside, it might be that you are naturally somewhat more likely to suffer from an Achilles tendon injury! You’re more at risk, for example, if the arches of your feet are too high or too low, or if the length of each of your legs is significantly different.
Arguably the most important tip for avoiding almost all of the really common sporting injuries amounts to the same thing: you must warm up properly! In heating the muscles a little, you’re readying them for what amounts to considerable strain… When you’re driving, you can imagine what a wrench it would be to jump from first gear to fourth. You wouldn’t dream of doing it! Don’t make your body do the same thing… No matter how gentle the exercise, you’ll be safer if you stretch first.
Walkers, joggers, runners, athletes, competitors…
Whatever level of activity you’re undertaking, work up to it: walkers – take a slow, ten-minute walk before a faster one. Runners – stretch and jog before setting off… This applies to all sports!
We could fill pages of advice on just picking the right footwear! Suffice to say that, when you buy shoes, it’s worth investing the time to get a scan of your feet to find out what kind of cushioning best suits you. Many specialist retailers now offer this kind of service –just steer clear of anything that one might describe as a “Sport’s Wear Warehouse”!
If you recall our driving metaphor from earlier, it might be enough to point out that you wouldn’t drop from fourth gear to first, either! You need to reverse the process and do some gentler exercises when you’re finishing up, too.
Stretch your Calves
In particular relation to Achilles tendon injuries, stretching the calves is a must. Now, we’re aware that some people question the veracity of stretching in relation to exercise… But in our experience and opinion, stretching is essential.
A quick, one-off visit to a physiotherapist soon gives you the confidence to work with a warm-up routine that suits you. It might be that it’s completely equipment free while, from time to time, we suggest using an exercise band. Drop in and see us about your Achilles tendon injuries at Sloane Square Clinic; we’d be delighted to help.