ACHILLES TENDONITIS: How to Prevent It
Achilles Tendonitis is another one of those conditions that can take an athlete our of commission for quite a while, and so it is definitely up there with things we want to prevent if possible.
WHAT IS ACHILLES TENDONITIS?
Achilles Tendonitis is irritation and inflammation of the Achilles tendon. This tendon stems from 2 muscles:
1| The Gastrocs
2| The Soleus
Typically your tendon will be red, swollen, and usually quite tender to the touch down near where it attaches on to your heel. It is aggravated by activities that engage your calf muscles (walking, running, stairs, hopping, jumping, etc...). It is also usually quite stiff and sore in the morning, but gets a bit better once you are up and about for a bit.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Achilles Tendonitis is typically deemed an overuse injury - basically it is caused by a repetitive or intense strain through the tendon. Running is one of the most common activities associated with developing it, due to it's inherently repetitive nature.
WHAT STEPS CAN YOU TAKE TO PREVENT IT?
Our preventative measures are going to target 2 main things:
1| Preventing "surprising" the tendon (AKA gradually increasing training)
2| Addressing mechanical factors that contribute to increased stress through the Achilles on their own.
1| Gradually increase your training (duration/distance). If you are new to running I recommend starting with intervals and going for an overall time vs. trying to run as far as you possibly can continuously. Instead start with a 1:1 run:walk ratio and build from there (2:1 - 4:1 - etc...)
2| Do a pre-run warm up. This doesn't have to be anything fancy - even just walking for the first 5 minutes of your run can help warm things up and prevent to sharp of increase in stress on your tendon.
1| Maintaining big toe extension. Having full big toe extension helps propel you through your foot. Without it you need to use your calf musculature more to create the extra propulsion. Try just kneeling with your toes tucked under your bum (if that's too much/uncomfortable shoot me a message for another option!)
2| Work on knee hyperextension postures. Your gastroc muscle actually attaches just above the knee. When you consistently have your knees hyperextended (beyond straight), you shift your center of gravity and place that muscle on tension constantly. When muscles are consistently under that kind of tension they can tighten, which places increased strain on their tendon. Basically you just want to keep a slight bend in your knees (don't lock them straight)
3| Maintaining a good arch height. If you have a flat or high arch it changes the angle that your tendon runs along as it attaches on to your heel. This change in angle (normally it should be basically straight) causes increase strain as it has to now pull awkwardly every time you use those calf muscles. If your arch is high, work on rolling out your foot and calf. If it is flat, work on strengthening it (toe scrunches, ankle stacking, etc...)
4| Running mechanics. There are a couple things here that can impact - pushing through the stance phase vs. falling and pulling, knee collapse, etc...(highly recommend a run gait assessment if this is something you battle with regularly)
5| Calf weakness. Sometimes muscles are tight because they are weak. It's important to build up the capacity in BOTH calf muscles in order to prevent this. Again it doesn't have to be anything fancy - my go to for prevention is Single Leg Calf Raises, 1 with knee straight and the other with knee bent, in order to hit both of the main muscle groups.
There are some things to get you started! If you consistently struggle with your Achilles, I highly recommend you see someone to get assessed and get a plan tailored specifically to you so you can stop that vicious cycle and enjoy what you love to do!