I have to be careful about Achilles Tendonitis. Some people call it Achilles Heel.
In 2006 I walked around the local Girl Scout camp all weekend in mud boots. Without a support lining! High arches and too much weight turned a bonding experience with my daughter and her troop into a long painful education about a tendon called Achilles. What is Achilles Tendonitis? If you’ve never heard of it, you probably haven’t had a problem with it. The Achilles Tendon connects the calf muscles to the bone on the heel. The “itis” part means chronically inflamed. It can be painful, at least that has been my experience.
During that year, it got pretty bad, to the point I didn’t want to stand up and walk across the room. When I would first wake up, it hurt. During the night, it would stiffen. Even now during sleep my toes tend to relax and point out, so when I step out of bed, my heel lands on the floor, stretching the tendon and pulling it. I gained a lot of weight that year and ended up going to a sports doctor, who sent me to physical therapy. That helped quite a bit. Twelve sessions of various exercises and treatments got me moving again.
Then, about a year later when I was consulting my family doctor for a sinus infection, he noticed I was limping. So, he sent me to another round of therapy, which greatly improved it. Five years later, Achilles Tendonitis started coming back again. I got myself to a Sport Chiropractic doctor who treated it before things got bad and gave me a series of exercises to do consistently at home, which has really helped.
What causes Achilles Tendonitis?
For me, it’s a combination of things. Some things I can do to improve the situation. Other things I’m stuck with.
- Too much weight – Having to carry around extra pounds makes it hard on all my joints, tendons and ligaments. I guess that is no surprise to anyone.
- High arches – Can’t change genetics.
- Tight calves – Bouncing on my toes tends to tighten my calf muscle. It’s like I can almost feel it tighten with each up and down. My calf muscle gets tight which in turn pulls too hard on my tendon. I avoid the bouncing step moves in Zumba and don’t do a regular jump rope jumping where you take off from your toes and land again on toes. I tend to take off and land on one foot at a time instead of both toes each time.
I prefer prevention to treatment. Strengthening my ankles in particular, really seems to help. Conditioning helps the little muscles in my feet.
What works for me to combat my Achilles Tendonitis?
I do a variety of things to keep it at bay. I do other things when I have a flair up. This is what works for me:
- Balance exercise – I start by standing on one foot on the floor. Then swing my leg. Progress to a pillow. Without my shoe. Then a stability cushion. And a bosu ball. I stand next to a chair or wall to catch myself. Building strength in those little muscles in my feet has made a huge difference. It also has helped me not to take a spill on the ice during the winter and helps me catch myself when one of our cats affectionately tries its very best to trip me in the morning!
- Massage – a good sports massage helps to attack that one calf muscle that still tends to get too tight. I also do a self massage with a tennis ball or lacrosse ball and a roller on the calf muscle which helps to release the tightness and not lead to that constant pull on my Achilles.
- Stretching – After a workout when my body is limber, I slowly lower my heels while standing on a step, and then raise back up to lower again (only when my Achilles tendon is healthy, not when it is sore and swollen.) There is an old Swedish study which followed two groups. The group that did this exercise improved. The other group not so much.
- Physical Therapy – when it gets bad, I’ll go to my doctor and have had a series of things: ultrasound, Graston technique (painful but works) and an inflatable massaging boot. Plus exercises to do at home.
- Strengthening – I’ve found that consistent strength and conditioning – my ankles, my glutes and my core – really seems to improve my luck with my Achilles tendon. I like to use the stability cushion; it helps to strengthen my ankles.
- Shoes – I use inserts in most of my shoes, especially the mud boots. I have a pair of expensive insoles designed for ski boots always in my mud boots. I use SuperFeet insoles in my running shoes. I do NOT wear flip flops because there is zero support and the chance of tripping and pulling tendon/muscle/ligament etc. is huge with flip flops and me. I buy good supporting shoes over cute shoes. And I am very picky about sandals.
- Warm Up – before doing anything, especially running, walking, hiking, working out in general, I try to do a dynamic warm up of mild stretching to get some blood flowing to the calves and massage my tendons.
- Ice/heat – after a long run, I put a bag of frozen peas under my tendon and prop my leg up. Just for a short time. Then I move my ankle around, and alternate ice with a warm rice bag. The idea of the ice is to reduce swelling. The warm rice bag helps with blood flow.
- Tape – (update) I’ve had some success with using kinesiology tape and have tried different patterns around my ankle.
I use a variety of tools including the foam roller, pillow, stability cushion, bosu ball, lacrosse ball/tennis ball and stair steps with a railing. These tools are all part of my on-going effort to strengthen the tendons and ligaments.
How about you? Do you deal with Achilles issues? Have a suggestion on how to strengthen, stretch or otherwise manage this tendon? Please let me know by leaving a message below in the comments!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or an expert on Achilles Tendonitis. I am just sharing my experiences with treating it and avoiding it. Consult your doctor or physical therapist.