What causes Achilles pain?
This tight tendon is synonymous with an area of weakness – and for many runners, it’s exactly that. The Achilles tendon originates in the middle of the calf and connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Two common problems for runners are Achilles tendonitis and Achilles tendinosis. Achilles tendonitis is a rapid and short-lived inflammation of the Achilles tendon, while Achilles tendinosis is a long-lasting degenerative disorder of the tendon.
“Most commonly, Achilles tendonitis can be caused from increasing your distance, volume or speed too quickly or changing routes,” says physiotherapist Stuart Mailer from Kensington Physio & Sports Medicine (kenphysio.com). “Too much volume or load through the tendon generally causes an inflammatory response. Other causes can be foot posture, weakness of the calf or foot muscles, reduced calf flexibility or poor ankle mobility. Running leads to high forces going through the Achilles tendon and there is a constant repetitive stress – it can be 70 impacts a minute,” adds Mailer. “The combination of the impact and repeated stress can irritate the tendon causing overloading, therefore leading to tendonitis.”
How do I treat it?
The solution is to rest, ice and stretch the calf and gradually increase strength. To strengthen the calf muscles, try these exercises:
Gastrocnemius heel raises: stand tall, with your feet facing forward and legs together; rise up onto your toes by lifting the heels. Slowly lower back to the start and repeat. Perform two sets of 15 repetitions.
Soleus heel raises: sit down in a chair, bend forward with your arms resting on your thighs, and then lift your heels up so that you’re on your toes, while still seated. Hold for three seconds and then slowly lower again. Perform two sets of 15 repetitions.
Gastrocnemius wall stretch: stand tall and extend one leg behind you. Keep your heels on the floor and bend the front leg, keeping the rear leg straight and feeling the stretch on the calf. Hold for 20-30 seconds and perform three times.
Soleus knee wall stretch: stand tall, and bend the knees forward, while keeping both heels on the floor. You should feel a stretch in the calf. Hold for 20-30 seconds and perform three times.
“If you rest earlier and don’t continue to run through your pain or discomfort, then it may be resolved in three to six weeks,” says Mailer. “But if you ignore it and keep running, it can develop into Achilles tendinosis that may last for six months.”