We all know that stretching is an important part of the running routine, and sometimes it’s helpful to hone in on specific types of stretches. Since the Achilles tendon is a critical piece of anatomy to running, all runners can benefit from some new ideas on how to give it a little TLC. In this article, we’ll cover Achilles tendon stretches.
We’ll discuss why it’s important, a few stretches to benefit the tendon, tips for completing the stretches, and finally some general Achilles tendon tips for recovery for runners.
Importance of Achilles Tendon Stretches
It’s important to stretch your Achilles tendon if you’re a runner because you can put a lot of pressure on this tendon pounding the pavement. If you overuse it and don’t stretch properly, the tendon could tear, or you could find yourself with tendonitis, typically caused by lots of intense physical activity.
By stretching your Achilles tendon, you’ll increase recovery time as well as mobility and protect yourself from injuries. If you have a tight Achilles tendon, you’ll have less than optimal efficiency in your muscles. You can improve this by stretching.
Additionally, you’ll get a greater range of motion by improving the flexibility of your Achilles tendon, and you’ll help keep your tendons strong and young by stretching daily. Your Achilles tendon will weaken over time if you’ve overused it for years, so you want to keep it nice and strong.
Finally, remember that your Achilles tendon can be subjected to loads that greatly exceed your body weight. Given that, it’s important to make sure that you stretch your Achilles tendon. Loads can be as great as 6-12 times your body weight when you’re running (or jumping).
Several Achilles Tendon Stretches to Try
There are numerous stretches you can do for your Achilles. These are four of our favorites:
1. Calf Stretch
This is my go-to for stretching my Achilles tendon, and you might love it too. Start with your hands on a wall. Move one leg forward, your knee slightly bent. Keep the other leg straight with the heel on the ground if possible.
Stretch your calf as long as it is “comfortably uncomfortable,” keeping your heels on the ground. Make sure that you don’t push your knee over the tip of your toes. Hold for 10 seconds, relax, and repeat 10-20 times with each leg.
2. Standing Toe Raises
Start by standing with your feet hip-distance apart and hold onto a chair or railing for balance. Next, stand up on both toes as high as you can and hold for 2-3 seconds. Slowly lower back down and repeat 10 times or more. You can also complete this exercise seated if you prefer.
3. Seated Towel Stretch
Sit on the floor and extend your legs forward. Put a towel under your feet and grab each end with your hands. Make sure to sit up straight and pull the towel toward you until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds before relaxing and releasing. Repeat 1-3 times.
If you’re a bit unsteady, you can also always lean your back against the wall. Additionally, if you have one calf that is tighter than the other one, you can do the stretch with just one foot as opposed to both feet.
4. Stair Stretch
Stand on the bottom stair with the ball of your foot on the step and your heel off the edge. Holding onto the railing for balance, gently lower your heel down below the step. When you start to feel a strong pull alongside your calf, stop and hold for 20-30 seconds. Switch to your other foot and repeat three times.
Tips for Achilles Tendon Stretches
Everything you know about stretching also goes for Achilles tendon stretches. Make sure that you don’t overstretch and stop if the stretch is too painful. The key is not to feel pain but to gently stretch your muscles and tendons.
Also, don’t rush through your stretches. Slow and steady wins the race. Finally, and this is more true for Achilles tendon stretches, don’t bounce while you’re doing this, as this puts more pressure on the Achilles tendon.
You’ll want to avoid quick, sudden movements, so it’s important to stay relaxed. Also, don’t forget to keep your heel down when you’re doing a calf stretch. If you don’t, you won’t be stretching your Achilles tendon properly.
Other Tips to Return to Running
If you’re dealing with a lot of Achilles tendon pain, stretching is definitely a good start, but you might also want to consider some of the following tips. If your running shoes are really old, worn out, and you’ve likely run more than 400-500 miles in them, you should replace them.
Purchasing shoes with a larger heel drop (less of a minimalist shoe) can also help, so you might consider increasing the heel drop with new or existing shoes. If you want to upgrade your current ones, simply add an over-the-counter-insert.
It’s important to avoid running if your Achilles tendon is causing you pain or is really sore. You need it to work to make sure that your other muscles aren’t getting too much pressure put on them. So take a couple days to rest and recuperate.
When you decide to start running again, make sure that you ease into it. Don’t just jump back into things. Start at around half the level you were at before experiencing Achilles pain and then slowly work up to the full level. It helps to find a good pair of running shoes for Achilles tendonitis.
Finally, once you start running pain-free, be sure to ice after every run. This will help to reduce inflammation and make your Achilles tendon feel better.
If you’ve tried everything that you can and your Achilles tendon pain isn’t getting better, you need to talk to a doctor. They will be able to help you return to your normal routine in a safe time frame.
In the end, if you want to do well in running, you need to make sure that your Achilles tendon is in good shape so that it can handle the loads that you’re putting on it. In short, don’t skimp on the stretches.
Taking the time to stretch your Achilles tendon every day will pay dividends with fewer injuries and less pain when running.