The Achilles tendon is the structure which attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone. It is the thickest and strongest tendon in the body and is generally around 15cm long. It is an area which is commonly injured by competitive dancers and during sport or exercise. Many runners experience achilles problems at some stage. The most common problem is an inflammatory condition known as Achilles tendinopathy. Other conditions causing pain in this area include retrocalcaneal bursitis, calcaneal stress fracture and calf muscle tears.
Achilles problems are common in runners because the Achilles resists loads of more than 8 times your body weight while running - that's over 1,200 Lbs or AN ENTIRE RUGBY TEAM SCRUM!! Sometimes the injuries can be a result of over-training or poor foot mechanics. Other issues may centre around the suitability of the footwear you train in and other times it's just plain bad luck. Whatever the cause, Achilles injuries are a runners nightmare.
If you have recently injured your Achilles then run through this check list to see whether there are things you can alter to help yourself
Your podiatrist will help you back to full fitness through a structured program of rest, support and exercise. Depending on the specific nature of your injury, he may recommend strapping or special insoles known as functional foot orthoses. These will help to address any mechanical imbalances that are affecting your Achilles. He will also give you a stretching and mobilisation regime to follow before he helps you back into running and then ultimately back to competition if that is your aim. One common misconception is that the RICE program (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is good for Achilles injuries. This is generally not the case as this is designed to specifically target muscle injuries, NOT TENDONS. If you have a calf muscle tear then RICE and a slow return to reunning is best. However, for tendon injuries you should follow the MEAT program instead;
TENDONS & LIGAMENTS
M - movement controlled movement of the injured limb can stimulate blood flow, reduce the formation of scar tissue, and speed up recovery. This is shown by Kerkhoffs et al. 2002 who demonstrated improved recovery in patients with ankle sprains treated with movement rather than immobilisation. So keep it moving as much as possible.
E - exercise this refers to prescribed exercises given by your podiatrist, rather than just movement as described above or exercise in a more genral sense. Bleakley et al (2010) showed that the addition of ankle AROM, strength and sensorimotor exercises to standard treatments improved function and weight-bearing in patients following acute ankle sprain.
A - analgesics can be used for pain control but it is better NOT TO USE ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES. These can inhibit the normal healing process.
T - treatment these injuries often require specialist intervention before returning to competition. You should work closely with your podiatrist to ensure a full and timely recovery. Follow your given exercise program closely and communicate any changes in your condition quickly.