For a runner, the Achilles Heel is no metaphor. On the contrary, it can prove to be a very real setback, given that heel injuries account for about 10% of all running-related troubles. The Achilles tendon, also known as the heel cord, attaches the calf muscles to the heel and is one of the thickest tendons in the human body. Achilles tendinitis is acute inflammation of this tendon that is caused largely due to athletic overuse of the muscles it connects. With further stress, the tendon tightens in with chances of rupturing or tearing, both resulting in a long break in your running schedule.
Heel injuries are common among both new and seasoned runners and the onset of Achilles Tendinitis can often be similar to aches and pains that come from training intensely or after a long gap. Runners often notice a dull pain towards the back of their ankles and close to the heel, which gets particularly heightened during and after running sessions. Other symptoms include swelling near the ankles, and in some cases, a burning sensation across the joint and stiffness of the tendon area. Some runners have also noticed redness in the joint and a localized nodule of scar tissues that can be painful to the touch.
One of the prime reasons for Achilles Tendinitis are tired and overworked calves that shift much of the weight of running onto the heels and add more pressure onto the Achilles. This also occurs when a runner increases his mileage too much too soon or overtrains under less than ideal conditions. Hill running is also stressful on the tendon, as is increasing speed at a rate greater than the muscles are prepared for. Not warming up adequately, therefore, becomes one of the chief triggers behind this injury. Apart from form imperfections and incorrect running techniques, wearing shoes that do not fit properly, are stiff, or cause the heel to twist uncomfortably can cause tendinitis.
The best possible treatment for Achilles Tendinitis include complete rest, along with ice application, compression therapy, the use of heel pads to reduce pressure on the heel and specific physiotherapy to strengthen the tendon. Running and any sort of repetitive exercise that requires the heel must be postponed until the joint is strong enough, though you can do light cross-training routines that don’t stress the area.
The best course of action, of course, is to avoid this painful episode altogether by making sure your Achilles is not vulnerable to recurring injuries. Here are some tips:
– Maintain flexibility in your legs. Spend adequate time over stretching your calf and ankle joints before and after each running session.
– Wear the right shoes. It is important that your footwear provides adequate support and complete range of motion for your feet while running. Shoes that are flexible and responsive and also fit you like a glove can help prevent most running injuries.
– Warm up well. Sudden stress on the muscles that comes from jumping right into your run can also lead to micro-tears in your tendon. You can prevent this by warming up adequately before running so that the muscles are cued in to what’s coming ahead.
– Strengthen your weak spots. Strong calves can help prevent many a case of tendinitis and inflammation of crucial muscles. Toe-raises are a great way to strengthen calf muscles – simply raise yourself on the balls of your feet, hold the pose for 10 seconds before releasing to normal.
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