As most runners know, Achilles tendonitis is a common running injury. Whether you want to make sure that it doesn’t affect you or if you want to know how to treat it, this article is for you!
We’ll cover common causes, how long it takes to heal, how to prevent it, and treatment options along with plenty of helpful tips along the way.
By the end, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to keep your Achilles tendon feeling nice and comfortable.
What is Achilles Tendonitis?
Let’s start with a basic definition. Achilles tendonitis is also called tendonitis of the heel, Achilles tendinopathy, tendinitis, or tendinosis. No matter what name you use, it is an injury of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscle to the heel bone.
The Achilles tendon becomes inflamed, which causes pain and swelling symptoms. Achilles tendonitis is very common among runners and middle-aged people who only exercise on the weekends.
What are Common Causes of Achilles Tendonitis?
Achilles tendonitis occurs from repetitive or intense strain on the tendon, the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. The Achilles tendon is used when you walk, run, jump, or push up on your toes.
Typically, Achilles tendonitis occurs because of overuse, which is often sports-related. If you run every day hard, it is going to put a lot of stress on your Achilles tendon. It can also be due to degeneration, or wearing down with age and time.
This means that if you’re a masters runner, you might be more susceptible to Achilles tendonitis because you use that tendon regularly and it is degenerating over time. You also could be more susceptible if you participate in several different sports that require plenty of running and jumping.
How Long Does Achilles Tendonitis Take to Heal?
Honestly, it depends on how quickly you dealt with the issue when it first appeared. You need to rest and recover to allow Achilles tendonitis to heal, which can sometimes take as long as four to six weeks if you waited until the pain was acute.
If you addressed the pain immediately, though, and started resting and taking a break from running and exercising, it should be a much shorter time required for healing.
What Happens if Achilles Tendonitis Goes Untreated?
If Achilles tendonitis is left untreated, it usually worsens into a chronically painful condition. This chronic condition is usually called tendinitis. There is a much greater chance of a ruptured tendon.
While not getting treatment is bad, restarting activities too soon can also increase your healing time and put you at risk for repeated tendon injuries. Thus, you’ll want to treat your Achilles tendonitis as soon as it appears and take a couple days off so that you’re not sidelined for weeks.
How Can I Prevent Achilles Tendonitis?
The best way to prevent Achilles tendonitis is to be aware of the exercise and activities you are participating in and follow these tips.
Increase Activities Gradually
Since Achilles tendonitis occurs due to overuse, it’s important to increase activities and activity level gradually. You don’t want to jump from running 10 miles a week to running 30 miles because that will put a lot of stress on your Achilles tendon.
You’ll also want to be aware of how frequently you exercise. If you only exercise once or twice a week on the weekends, you need to adapt your intensity level. You can’t be going all-out on those days because your body just isn’t used to that.
Be Mindful of Workout Time
You also probably want to avoid long sessions of over an hour unless you exercise several times a week with varying levels of intensity. It just doesn’t work to cram all your exercising into one or two days.
Be Choosy With Your Shoes
Because Achilles tendonitis affects the heel, you need to make sure that your heel is getting the support you need. This means that you need to choose your running shoes carefully and pick shoes with great heel support. Just make sure it doesn’t irritate the heel.
If you just recently switched running shoe brands and started to deal with more Achilles tendon pain, then it could be that particular brand is just not a good fit for your feet. Remember that it’s important to select a shoe that is comfortable for you.
Often, a running shoe with a high heel-to-toe drop can help reduce the strain (and associated pain) caused by Achilles tendonitis.
Stretching helps with so many running/sports injuries, and Achilles tendonitis is no exception. It’s important to make sure that your calf muscles aren’t tight. When you start a run, make sure that they are warmed up and ready to go.
Try doing calf stretches against the wall where you face the wall and place two hands on it. Step forward with one leg and bend your knee, stretching the calf muscle in your other leg. If it’s a bit uncomfortable, that means your calf muscles are a little tight.
Strengthen Your Calf Muscles
And while you’re at it, you also will want to make those calf muscles stronger. You can do this in a variety of ways from downward dog to a farmer’s walk on your toes to heel raises. However, if you have kids (or are a kid at heart), maybe you might want to try jump rope.
Not only will you strengthen your calves, but jumping rope is also a great way to improve coordination in your entire body and help you become more balanced. Plus, it’s fun because it’s a throwback to childhood.
Cross-training is also important so that you are working different muscle groups and increasing your strength. To be a strong runner, you need to have a strong core and strong leg muscles, and you should do workouts besides running to accomplish that.
Cross-training will ensure that your legs (and specifically your Achilles tendon) are prepared to do hard runs and workouts because you’re working them on the off days.
What is the Treatment if I Have Achilles Tendonitis?
If you have Achilles tendonitis, the first thing you need to do is stop. Take some time to rest, ice, stretch, and massage your calves. This is the time to find a show you want to binge watch on Netflix and then take a couple days off from running and high-intensity workouts.
Instead, you should switch from high-impact activities like running or soccer to swimming, pool jogging, cycling, or walking short distances with a workout time of no more than 30 minutes. This will help with your recovery.
You also might want to consider changing your running shoes. Typically, shoes with a soft heel and high heel-to-toe drop can help Achilles pain. So, in the midst of resting, go to a running shoe store and try on some new kicks to see what feels good to you.
In addition, you will also want to start including some heel lift exercises into your recovery program to help take some strain off of your tendon. You can do these standing or seated, so you can even do them while watching TV.
Finally, if you are feeling uncomfortable, you might need to take some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help relieve pain and decrease inflammation in your Achilles tendon.
What Devices Can Help?
In addition to taking some time off and working to stretch and strengthen your Achilles tendon, you may also want to think about using a device.
Orthosis is a device that is used to modify the structure of a joint or to stabilize a body part. By helping to stabilize, protect, or limit movement of a damaged joint, an orthosis can help your Achilles tendon heal faster.
Another option is a splint, which is a rigid accessory also used to stabilize and protect an injured joint. This will ensure that your Achilles tendon and surrounding area is where they are supposed to be located.
What Specialists Can Help if My Treatment Doesn’t Work?
If you’re not able to treat your Achilles tendonitis at home or if it starts to get worse, then you might need to see a specialist.
If your Achilles tendonitis isn’t too serious, you might want to try physical therapy, which will restore your muscle strength and function through exercise. This will help you keep moving but without making the injury worse.
You might also want to go and see a podiatrist because they specialize in foot problems and may be able to recommend shoes, stretches and strengthening exercises, and training plans to avoid more issues of Achilles tendonitis in the future.
Someone Who Specializes in Sports Medicine
If you play other sports like soccer in addition to running, you might want to talk to someone who specializes in sports medicine. Obviously, if you’re just a runner, you can talk to them too, but it might be particularly useful if you play other sports as well.
Finally, if all else fails, you might need to see an orthopaedic surgeon who will perform surgery for conditions affecting bones and muscles. Obviously, this is a last step in treating Achilles tendonitis.
You’ll want to speak with other medical professionals beforehand to make sure that surgery is really what you need to deal with Achilles tendonitis that has severely worsened, but hopefully you don’t ever get to that step.
Injuries like Achilles tendonitis are never fun when you’d rather be out on the trail, track, or road running, but unfortunately, they can pop up every now and then. Just address the issue as soon as possible so that it doesn’t get worse.
And make sure that you’re doing what you can to prevent future occurrences of Achilles tendonitis by making sure that your calf and heel muscles are strong, you’re incorporating cross-training, and you aren’t overusing the muscles or exercising at too high of an intensity.
If you do all of this, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to count on one hand the number of times that you’ve had to deal with Achilles tendonitis.