An Achilles tendon injury (tendinopathy) is one of the most common causes of pain felt behind the heel and up the back of the ankle when walking or running. While Achilles tendinopathy affects both active and inactive individuals, it is most common in active individuals; 24% of athletes develop the condition. Males experience 89% of all Achilles tendon injuries, and an estimated 50% of runners will experience Achilles pain in their running careers. In all individuals, Achilles tendinopathy can result in a limited ability to walk, climb stairs, or participate in recreational activities.
The Achilles tendon helps to balance forces in the leg and assists with movement of the leg and the ankle joint. Achilles tendinopathy results when the demand placed on the Achilles tendon is greater than its ability to function. This can occur after 1 episode (acute injury) or after repetitive irritation or “microtrauma” (chronic injury).
1. Take Smaller Steps – By taking longer steps you place more stress/stretch on your Achilles tendon, which can increase symptoms, so taking smaller steps with walking can avoid this.
2. RICE & MEAT –Tried and true, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate) will help decrease swelling/inflammation and should be used immediately after pain or an injury for at least the first 24 to 48 hours. Icing is also recommended to help alleviate pain and inflammation. Try using an ice massage. Fill up a Dixie cup with water and freeze the cup. Then, cut the top off the cup off so you can hold it on the bottom and massage for 5-10 minutes going up/down the Achilles tendon. MEAT stands for Movement, Exercise, Analgesics, and Treatment.
3. Heel Lift – Sometimes a heel lift in a shoe can be beneficial. By putting the foot into a plantar flexion state (foot or toes flex downward toward the sole) it will decrease the stress/stretch being placed on the Achilles tendon with walking.
4. Gentle Stretching – Gentle stretching is better than over-aggressive stretching. Eccentric strengthening (overall lengthening of a muscle as it develops tension and contracts to control motion) of the calf muscle is one of the most important things that can be done for Achilles tendon injuries. Focus also needs to be paid to your core, hips, hamstrings, and glutes, as this is where power is generated for your running stride.
5. Foot Wear – Wearing proper shoes with good support and possibly using orthotics is key to injury prevention and rehabilitation. Consider using an insole orthotic like Superfeet to add additional support depending on what sort of arch you have. They also help decrease stress being placed on the Achilles tendon.