Achilles Tendon Treatment Exercises – Rehabilitating From Achilles Tendinitis With Success
The name Achilles is believed to be a combination of Greek words which together mean “grief of the people.” The Achilles tendon is a very tough band of fibrous tissue which connects the heel bone (calcaneus) to the calf muscle. It is also called the calcaneal tendon.
Calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius) unite into one band of tissue, that becomes the Achilles tendon and then inserts into the heel bone. The Achilles tendon is the strongest, and the largest tendon in the body. When the calf muscles flex, the Achilles tendon pulls on the heel - that movement allows us to stand on our toes when jumping, walking or running.
Despite the strength of this tendon, it is vulnerable to injury, because of its limited blood supply ad the high tensions which are placed on it. The structure of Achilles tendon tends to weaken with age, which can make it more prone to injury- especially in people who participate in sports.
What is Achilles tendinitis?
Technically, it is acute inflammation of the tendon which runs along the back of the ankle. It is often confused with other injuries, such as heel problems, but the hallmark sign is “if you are pinching the Achilles and it’s sore.” Although Achilles tendonitis isn’t a fatal condition, it is bothersome because it is accompanied with stiffness at the back of the heel, which is making walking and running painful.
It all begins with the stress- anything that stresses the tendons of your heels may cause this condition. It could be the surface you walk on, your running speed, or the length of your exercise which may lead to injury. Achilles tendinitis typically occurs in runners who have suddenly increased the intensity of their runs, as well as middle-aged people who play sports only on the weekends.
The pain which is associated with Achilles tendinitis most commonly begins as a mild ache above the heel or In the back of the leg after sports activity. The pain can become more severe after prolonged running, sprinting or stair climbing.
I recommend visiting a doctor if you experience persistent pain around the Achilles tendon. You should seek immediate medical attention if the disability or pain is severe, because your Achilles tendon may be ruptured, and that usually requires surgical repair.
If you want to reduce risk from Achilles tendonitis, you have to start by investing in proper footwear which has added cushioning in its heels, as that will redistribute the force to your feet instead. I also advise reducing your exercise intensity, frequency, and duration. Alternate between low impact and high impact sport and prep up your lower legs with the stretches.
You can also take measures to reduce the risk of Achilles tendinitis:
- Take it easy
You should avoid activities which place excessive stress on your tendons, such as hill running. It is essential to warm up by exercising at a slower pace if you participate in strenuous activity.
- Choose your footwear carefully
Your shoes should provide adequate cushioning and offer firm arch support to reduce the tension in the Achilles tendon while you exercise. The best shoes for Achilles tendinitis is often the best way to prevent such foot injuries. If your footwear is in good condition but doesn’t support your feet, you should try arch support in both shoes. Or just replace your worn-out shoes. And if you are an active walker or runner, I suggest using walking shoes or running shoes that prevent Achilles tendinitis and ensure the longevity of your Achilles' tendons.
- Increase your activity level gradually
If you are a beginner regarding exercising, you should start slowly and steadily increase the intensity and duration of the training.
- Strengthen your calf muscles
Strong calf muscles mean better handling of the stress the Achilles tendons encounter with exercise and activity. So do your best to strengthen them.
- Stretch daily
You should stretch your Achilles tendon and calf muscles in the morning, right before exercise and after it to maintain flexibility. Stretching routinely is so essential to avoid a recurrence of Achilles tendinitis.
Alternate low-impact activities such as swimming and cycling with the high-impact activities such as jumping and running.
Achilles tendinitis exercises
The most successful exercises for treating Achilles tendinitis are eccentric strengthening exercises that involve strengthening the tendon as it lengthens. Studies have shown that this kind of exercises is the most effective method for treating long-term chronic Achilles tendon pain. The treatment is tough, and the patients are very likely to suffer discomfort before they see some improvement.
Why eccentric exercises? Well, these exercises involve the patient dropping the heel to horizontal in a controlled, slow matter. An eccentric contraction is the type of contraction where the muscle gets longer as it contracts, rather than shortening. When it comes to this kind of treatment, I’ll point out to three things:
- If the pain in the Achilles tendon gets worse, that may NOT necessarily be a bad thing. It could just be the part of the regular healing process
- One should perform heel drop exercises both with the leg bent and straight.
- One should do a total of 180 repetitions every day, for twelve weeks. That is a lot more than most Achilles rehab programs would advocate
Gastrocnemius heel drop
The patient should stand with one leg on a step, and the heel raised up. Slowly lower the heel down as you keep the leg straight until the foot is parallel to the ground, but no further. Push up to the starting position using the leg which is not injured to assist and repeat. I recommend performing 3 x 15 repetitions twice a day.
This exercise should be moderately painful. The pain in the Achilles may get worse over time before it gets better. If the exercise can be done pain-free for 2 x 15 repetitions twice a day, the load should be increased. You can do that by wearing a rucksack or a weighted vest to increase the load through the Achilles tendon.
Soleus heel drop
This exercise is similar to the above one- the patient begins by standing with one foot on a step, but this time the knee of the leg being exercised is bent to 45 degrees. The heel should be raised up high and slowly lowered to the horizontal position, but not further. Use uninjured leg to return to the starting position upon the toes with the heel high. You should perform three sets of 15 repetitions twice a day.
The exercise should be moderately painful, and the pain could get worse before it gets better. Continue until exercises are not painful and then increase the load until moderate discomfort or pain is experienced once more. You should do this routine every day for twelve weeks. Both exercises should total 180 repetitions every day for twelve weeks.
These exercises stimulate collagen production and increase tendon volume in the short term. The strength of the tendon will increase over the time, which will make it able to cope with the loads expected of it in the day to day activities.
Stretching exercises for Achilles tendinitis
Achilles stretches don’t stretch the tendon much- it’s all about stretching the calf muscles that feed into the tendon. It is the essential part of the rehabilitation and treatment of Achilles tendinitis, as short or tight calf muscles may increase the strain on the Achilles tendon, which makes it work harder.
Stretching on a step
You should perform this exercise to stretch the Achilles and calf muscles further. Stand on a step with toes on the step and with the heels off the back. You should carefully lower the heels down below the level of the step until you feel the stretch, and make sure to have something to hold onto.
Hold for fifteen to twelve seconds, with the knee straight and then repeated with the bent knee to make sure you are stretching both muscles.
Place your leg to be stretched behind and lean forward, while ensuring the heel is kept in contact with the floor at all times. Hold this stretch for twelve to thirty seconds and repeat three times. You can repeat the exercise several times a day, and it should not be painful.
You should feel the stretch at the back of the lower leg, if not- move the back leg further back. There is also a more advanced version of a calf stretch where one uses a step and drop the heel down off it.
To stretch this muscle, you should bend the back leg. Place the leg you wanted to stretch behind and lean against the wall while keeping the heel down. You should feel the stretch lower down near the ankle at the back of the leg. If the stretch is not felt, the more advanced version is to place the forefoot of your front leg against the wall with the heel on the floor and push the knee towards the wall.
Achilles tendon massage
Achilles tendon massage can also prove valuable. Massage has many benefits, and in the case of Achilles tendinitis it can help stimulate blood flow, break down scar tissue and aid in the stretching of the calf massage. There are a couple of techniques such as Effleurage, Transverse mobilization, Cross frictions, Circular frictions, etc.
The Achilles tendinitis is an unpleasant and often painful condition. You should take adequate measures to prevent it, and if you already have the condition, these exercises will help you with battle it and rehabilitate.