Achilles pain and tendonopathy can debilitate an athlete and make long working days hell for sufferers with swelling and thickening around the Achilles, making it stiff and weak. It’s also painful because the body can’t tolerate the load and stresses being put on it.
Traditionally stretching has been recommended but over stretching may be causing more damage, pain or irritation. This is backed up by new research from the Journal of Sports Medicine Australia which found Achilles injuries are less likely due to inflammation of the tendon and are more likely due to a series of micro tears that weaken the tendon. Studies have also recently shown repeated isometric (static load) exercises can dramatically decrease pain. So don’t over stretch! Keep the stretch mild and pain free.
The 5 main risk factors for developing Achilles tendinitis and how to beat them are:
1. Incorrect shoes for the type of activity.
Your runners need to match your foot type and have the correct heel pitch. This might mean buying a runner that has a slightly higher heel raise to reduce loading on your Achilles and calves. A podiatrist can help you find the right runner for your foot.
2. Tight calves
stretching and strengtheningTendons are more susceptible to injury when they’re cold so warm up, cool down and stretch when exercising. A great static-load exercise is a two-foot calf raise where you hold the stretch for 30-45 seconds at 90% of a full calf raise. Repeat 3-5 times with a 45 second rest in between. As you feel your Achilles becoming stronger you can increase the intensity. If you’re too sore to stretch, a Myotherapist can use dry needling and soft tissue techniques to reduce pain and stiffness. Once you get some relief you can start stretching. Your Myotherapist, podiatrist, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can then develop a strengthening program to help you get back to your normal activities
3. Excessive pronation
Using correct technique will ensure the Achilles tendon is not under excessive stress. If you haven’t had your gait or specific activity analysed, get checked out by a qualified health or fitness professional like a podiatrist.
4. Running on hard or uneven surfaces
Training on different surfaces will provide variety in loading patterns. This is great because it’ll cause different tendons and muscles to be used, avoiding overuse and fatigue on one tendon.
5. A dramatic increase in exercise
We all know it, but we don’t always follow the age old advice: slow and steady wins the race! Gradually increasing exercise allows our body to adjust and continue to adapt to an increased training load. This reduces the risk of an overuse injury which can occur if the physical demands exceed the body’s ability to adapt and recover in time.