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Achilles pain – How to protect your most vulnerable tendon

The Achilles tendon is a band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the calf muscle in the lower leg. A healthy tendon enables us to go up on our toes, to walk properly with a heel strike and toe off motion, all without pain.

Achilles tendinitis (or tendinopathy) is the medical terminology for the inflammation of the tendon and usually comes about following repetitive movements such as running and playing sports.

Most cases of Achilles tendinitis can be treated with relatively simple exercises and self care strategies. More severe ruptures may require surgical intervention.

How to reduce the risk of Achilles tendinitis?

  • Increase your activity level gradually. If you are just beginning an exercise programme, start slowly and gradually build up to increase the duration and intensity of the training. Slow is key!
  • Avoid certain activities. Try to avoid activities that place a lot of stress on your tendons, such as running.  Ensure you always warm up first before any exercise, and if you notice pain during the exercise, stop and rest.
  • Good shoes. Always ensure the shoes you wear for exercise provide you with a good support, and a firm arch, vital to help reduce the pressure off the Achilles tendon. If your shoes are worn out or do not provide the necessary support, invest in a new pair.
  • Always stretch. Stretching your calf muscles and Achilles tendon before and after exercise is important to maintain its flexibility. This will also help to avoid a recurrence of Achilles tendinitis if you have suffered from this condition before.
  • Strong calf muscles. Having strong calf muscles will help the calf and Achilles tendon to handle better stresses they are put through with exercise.
  • Mix up the exercise. Mixing up the high impact exercises with some low impact ones such as swimming and cycling.  Do not always only do high-impact exercise.

What are the symptoms of Achilles tendinitis?    

  • Stiffness in the tendon
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Thickening of the tendon
  • Increased pain which normally presents itself at the back of your leg or your heel
  • A grating or popping noise when you move your ankle
  • Some swelling over the ankle
  • You have trouble trying to point your toes

Whether you are an athlete or not, if you begin to experience pain in the Achilles tendon area or in the connected soft tissue under your feet, you should obtain medical advice. Early treatment and management of this condition can prevent the condition becoming chronic.

What to do if I have Achilles tendonitis?

When you are first aware of the pain, using the RICE method can be very helpful:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

When you first see your doctor, they will be able to discuss a treatment plan with you. Some questions they may ask at your consultation:

  • How long have you had the pain?
  • How severe is the pain?
  • Does the pain come and go or is it constant?
  • What aggravates and eases your pain?
  • Did you have an injury that you are aware of?

Some options they may discuss are below:

  • Getting an Xray and/or MRI. This is to ensure a correct diagnosis.
  • Physiotherapy. Doing targeted stretches and exercises can aid recovery quickly.
  • Podiatry.  Getting custom made orthotics for your shoes can help with your pain and stabilise the position of your foot and take the strain off the Achilles tendon.
  • Wearing a brace. This can provide you with support and take some of the pressure off the tendon, helping to reduce the discomfort and pain during your everyday activities.
  • Seeing a foot surgeon. This may be necessary if symptoms are not improving.

When seeing a physiotherapist to treat Achilles tendonitis, their main goal is to rehabilitate your tendon to improve the overall function/stiffness, increasing the flexibility, and getting you back to your daily activities without the pain you have been experiencing. Physiotherapy for Achilles tendinitis includes teaching you targeted stretches for your tendon, graded strengthening exercises, soft tissue work, massage, taping and acupuncture. Physiotherapy can often help improve your pain.

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  • All our physiotherapists are hand-picked professionals with years of experience
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