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Fix and prevent pain in your Achilles tendon with these stretches and exercises.
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. The pain can be mild to debilitating.
What’s going in there?
The Achilles is a thick, ropelike tendon about 4 inches long connecting muscles in the lower leg to their insertion points at the heel bone.
The most common injury location is the muscle-tendon junction, where the muscles converge into the tendon. These injuries tend to heal spontaneously, but not as quickly as an injury higher up the leg, in the muscular area, because the blood flow isn’t as generous.
The most serious Achilles injury is to the tendon itself. Inflammation of the tendon, called tendinitis, and chronic inflammation with fluid buildup, called tendinosis, are the most common of this type.
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 be a primary cause of Achilles injuries. These exercises target your lower leg and can be added to any workout.
Split jump (with or without dumbbells)
Stand in a staggered stance, your right foot in front of your left. Lower your body as far as you can. Quickly switch directions and jump with enough force to propel both feet off the floor. While in the air, scissor-kick your legs so you land with the opposite leg forward. Repeat, alternating back and forth
with each repetition.
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.
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 4–6 times a day can help reduce inflammation and swelling.
Stretch it. I don’t advocate stretching if it brings pain. Once you can do so without pain, do the classic runner’s stretch with your hands against a wall.
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. 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, squat thrusts, and so on.
New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 29-time marathon runner and 10-time Ironman finisher. His new book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.
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