Perhaps Achilles tendonitis is one of the most common running injury. It’s an overuse injury on the thick and strong tissue (Achilles tendon) connecting the heel bone and calf muscles. The Achilles tendons are especially strained during toe-off when running or walking.
Luckily, there’s a remedy for Achilles tendonitis. This guide takes you through the causes, treatments and preventive measures for Achilles tendonitis.
Should You Run with Achilles Tendonitis?
Pain and discomfort resulting from Achilles tendonitis often gets more intense during activities such running, walking or jogging. The Achilles tendon becomes stiffer and tighter during the toe-off period of the gait cycle.
Forefoot-striking, uphill running and speed running are more likely to make the condition even worse. So, the question is, should you continue running with Achilles tendonitis?
While it is possible to run with Achilles tendonitis, the decision to run or not depends on a number of factors. These include how severe the condition is and how your workout techniques impact on it. Plus how do you plan to manage the condition at hand?
Notably, Achilles tendonitis can side-line you from your running or fitness routine if no early intervention are taken.
Causes of Achilles Tendonitis in Runners
The Achilles tendons are useful during toe-offs especially when running, jogging, jumping, walking, doing push-ups and so on. Any of these activity is likely to trigger intensive forces in your Achilles. This can lead to excessive strain in the tendon which can be felt as stiffness, tightness or pain.
The amount of strain on the Achilles depends on the intensity of toe-off during your running or workouts. That means, uphill running, forefoot-striking and speed running are likely to make the Achilles condition even worse.
Achilles tendonitis can also occur whenever you suddenly stress your Achilles by increasing your workout or running intensity or duration. This is more likely to happen in older runners than in younger runners.
Some physical conditions in your feet may also increase the strain in the Achilles tendonitis. These include overpronation, ankle stiffness and weak calf muscles.
Achilles tendonitis can be associated with certain high risk factors. These include:
1. Training Techniques/Conditions
Uphill running, forefoot-striking and speed running tends to increase strain on your Achilles which may in turn lead inflammation or physical damage. The pain you experience in the Achilles is due to the damaged fibers also known as collagen.
Older and worn-out shoes provide less arch support which leads to excessive strain on your Achilles.
Cold weather can also increase your chances of suffering Achilles tendonitis.
2. Foot Problems
Runners with flat foot arches are more likely to suffer Achilles tendonitis than those with high foot arches. That’s because, the fallen arches tend to strain the Achilles tendon as they pull the calf muscles.
3. Sex Orientation
Most of Achilles tendonitis cases are reported or diagnosed in men. Although there’s no concrete reason for this observation, some scientists suspect it could be due to the large calf muscles in men.
With advancement in age, the Achilles tendons tend to weaken. That means older runners should adapt to changes in their body to minimise the risk of injuries. For instance they should avoid getting into intense running or workout all of a sudden. It helps to gradually stretch the Achilles tendons before and after running to enhance their flexibility.
5. Medical Issues
Individuals who have an underlying high blood pressure or psoriasis condition have higher chances of developing tendonitis in their Achilles.
Achilles tendonitis has also been associated with antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones. Fluoroquinolones are only allowed to treat serious infections like pneumonia. However, they have been associated with extreme side effects including nerve damage, abnormal heart rate, tendon rupture, and so on.
The Achilles tendon and the heel can also become stressed as a result of persistence mechanical stress. This is especially common in overweight individuals.
Achilles Tendonitis Treatment
Treatment for Achilles tendonitis aims at reducing the inflammation and irritation. Luckily, Achilles tendons are known to respond effectively to DIY home remedies as long as they are not subjected to subsequent damage.
Below is a summary of the most effective interventions for Achilles tendonitis:
Usually, your doctor will recommend over-the-counter Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs-NSAIDs as the primary means for pain and inflammation mitigation. Ibuprofen and naproxen are the most commonly used NSAIDs.
If you have a recurring Achilles tendonitis condition, your doctor may prescribe some physical therapy to strengthen and stretch the Achilles during healing. This involves slowly raising and lowering a weight with your foot while seated.
3. Correct Running Shoes
Flat feet often strain the Achilles tendons due to the tendency of the foot arch to pull the calf muscles. However, you can reduce the strain by wearing shoes that offer support to your foot arches.
Alternatively, you can purchase heel lifts or inserts to cushion your Achilles tendons so as to reduce overuse.
4. DIY Home Remedies
The acronym R.I.C.E stands for a commonly used self-care strategy for injuries that occur in muscles, joints, bones and soft tissues like tendons. This treatment involves the following steps:
Taking a few days break from activities gives the Achilles tendon time to heal. If you don’t subject the tendon to subsequent strain, the pain and inflammation will definitely go subside without medication.
You can use crutches to walk around to avoid straining the tendon during the healing period.
This involves placing ice on the tendon for a few minutes to reduce the inflammation. Do not apply a cold pack directly on your skin as this could damage your skin. It’s recommended to wrap the cold pack in a cloth before placing it on the tendon.
Compression aims at limiting the swelling which is the main cause of the pain in the Achilles. This involves wrapping a compression sleeve, athletic tape or bandage around the tendon. Alternatively you can wrap with a piece of clothing.
Ensure you don’t tie too tightly as this can hinder effective blood flow.
While lying down on your back, slightly elevate your foot and support it with a pillow. In this position, blood will flow away from the leg thus reducing the swelling.
See the video below for the best stretches for Achilles tendonitis.
If the above conservative interventions fail to yield effective results, tendon surgery may be necessary. This is usually the case where Achilles tendonitis has reached a point of rupture.
The type of surgery will depend on the severity of the rupture and factors such as previous ruptures.
How to Prevent Achilles Tendonitis
1. Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Start with warm up and end with a cool down any time you’re running or cross training. This should also include stretches on your calfs to prepare the Achilles tendons for more strenuous activities.
2. Enhance Strength and Balance
A combination of low-impact and high-impact workouts can help build strong calf muscles to minimise strain on the Achilles tendon.
Incorporating balance exercises in your workouts can avert stiffness on your leg and feet especially during toe-off. This helps in minimizing strain the Achilles tendon. Typical balance workouts include leg swing, single-leg balance, stork stand, and so on.
3. Running Shoes
Overpronation due to flat is one of the causes of Achilles tendonitis. Luckily, you can minimise overpronation by wearing shoes that support your fallen arches. You can also buy custom orthotics to provide arch support in your running shoes.
Like most running injuries, Achilles tendonitis has no acknowledged cure. The available interventions are actually aimed at minimising its occurrence or its progression to extents that will lead to tendon rupture.
Understanding the risk factors is one of the best ways of staying on the safe side.