Running, walking, dancing, hopping, jumping. You couldn’t do any of it without your achilles tendon. When you don’t take care of this tendon and injure it, the result is heel pain or ankle pain, and depending on the injury, anywhere between a few days to 12 weeks of rest and recovery.
Your achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel bone, and is responsible for every movement of your lower leg. When you contract your calf muscle, it pulls up on the achilles tendon, which forces the front of your foot down. This connectivity enables you to stand on your toes, walk, run, and jump. When you push off a surface, each achilles tendon has to handle 3-12 times your body weight. It’s a tendon with a lot of responsibility.
And that’s why it’s so easily injured when you don’t take care of it. The major causes of injury are overuse, misalignment of your leg, improper footwear, and accidents. These injuries usually show up as Achilles tendonitis or an achilles tendon rupture or tear.
Symptoms of achilles tendon injury
Achilles tendonitis (aka achilles tendinosis):
Soreness or stiffness usually just behind the ankle, which comes on gradually and continues to worsen. This is a very common injury among athletes, especially long distance runners.
Achilles tendon rupture
There usually is little mystery when this happens. This partial or complete tear of the achilles tendon happens quickly, often with a popping sound, and is very painful, usually described as a knife-like pain. A complete tear is self-evident by the inability to properly coordinate the movement of your foot and leg, but a partial tear may be a bit more mysterious. This is most common in middle age athletes who don’t do proper warmups (stretching) before exercising.
Preventing Achilles tendon injury
You get what you pay for in athletic shoes. A shoe which fits your arch, is matched to your pronation, and is sufficiently cushioned, is key in keeping your Achilles healthy, especially as we age. In fact, just a little padding under the heel can be of tremendous benefit to those who suffer from repeated injuries to the achilles. That’s because the padding actually shortens the length of the stretch of the tendon with every step. Custom made orthotics (shoe inserts) are also very helpful in healing the achilles tendon and preventing injury. And as always, stretching before exercise is key in avoiding many injuries of the foot and ankle – and elsewhere.
Treating an achilles tendon injury
Fortunately, treating an achilles injury under a podiatrist’s supervision is usually successful. Depending on the severity of your injury, your podiatrist may recommend rest, a change in footwear, orthotics, over the counter anti inflammatory pain medicine, and stretching exercises via physical therapy. If your achilles is ruptured or torn, surgery or immobilization with a walking boot or cast may be necessary to repair it.
Early treatment by a podiatrist is key in healing the achilles tendon correctly and preventing more serious injury. Even in mild cases, it can take weeks or months until you’re able to get back to your regular routine.