Marked by mild to debilitating pain in the back of the heel, the tendon just above it, or possibly up to where the calf muscles form a V on the back of the leg, Achilles tendinitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the thick, ropelike tendon connecting the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the lower leg to their insertion points at the heel bone. Here’s what you can do about it:
Employ dynamic rest. With Achilles injuries, in general, swimming is fine and biking can work, but only if it’s pain free. Running is a huge no-no and will make the injury worse.
Ice it. Applying ice to the area for 15 minutes 4 to 6 times a day can help reduce inflammation and swelling.
Stretch it. Don’t stretch if it brings pain. Once you can do so without pain, do the classic runner’s stretch with your hands against a wall (see right).
Strengthen it. A tendon like the Achilles starts to hurt because of the load on it. If you want to reduce the loading force, build up the muscles affecting that load so they can take the brunt of it. Once you’re pain free, recondition your lower body. Start with eccentric calf raises: Stand with your heels hanging off a step, take 10 seconds to lower them, then raise them back up at a normal rate. Also add in plenty of plyometric lower-body work like squats, multidirectional lunges and squat thrusts.
Prevent it. The best way to prevent Achilles tendinitis in the first place is by building limber lower legs. An underlying lack of flexibility, especially in your calf muscles, can cause Achilles injuries. The stretches and exercises here all target your lower leg and can be added to any workout.
Keep your Achilles healthy with these training tips
Watch your foot mechanics. Pronation (when the foot rolls inward as you walk or run) can contribute to Achilles injuries. Stability shoes and/or over-the-counter arch supports can help correct the problem.
Shorten your running stride. Doing this while increasing your foot strike cadence may help you generate better stride mechanics because you’ll be putting a lot less load on your feet, shins and knees. While running, count how many times your right foot strikes in 60 seconds. Shoot for 85 to 90 per minute.
Farmer’s Walk on Toes
Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and hold them at your sides at arm’s length. Raise your heels and walk forward (or in a circle) for 60 seconds. Be sure to stand as tall as you can and stick your chest out. Choose the heaviest pair of dumbbells that allows you to perform the exercise without breaking form for 60 seconds.
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Single-Leg Standing Dumbbell
Grab a dumbbell in your right hand and stand on a step, block or 25-pound weight plate. Cross your left foot behind your right ankle and balance yourself on the ball of your right foot, with your right heel on the floor or hanging off a step. Put your left hand on something stable—a wall or weight rack, for instance. Lift your right heel as high as you can. Pause, then lower and repeat. Complete the prescribed number of reps with your right leg, then do the same number with your left (holding the dumbbell in your left hand).
Straight-Leg Calf Stretch
Stand about 2 feet in front of a wall in a staggered stance, right foot in front of your left. Place your hands on the wall and lean against it. Shift your weight to your back foot until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds on each side, then repeat twice for a total of three sets. Perform this routine daily, and up to three times a day.
Place a foam roller under your right ankle, with your right leg straight. Cross your left leg over your right ankle. Put your hands flat on the floor for support and keep your back naturally arched. Roll your body forward until the roller reaches the back of your right knee. Then roll back and forth. Repeat with the roller under your left calf. (If this is too hard, perform the movement with both legs on the roller.)