In the past few months I have been coming across quite a few runners who have been dealing with foot injuries, plantar fasciitis and Achilles issues. Achilles injuries (Achilles Tendonitis) is a very common injury amongst runners, it can be very painful, and stressful. All the force when you “toe off” the ground while running is transmitted by the Achilles, this force can be as much as 2-3 times our body weight. The faster we run, the more strain on the Achilles.
Symptoms of Achilles injuries include tightness, aching, creaking of the tendon and heel pain. The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the body, but with very little blood flow. It connects the calf muscles to the back of the heel. The tendon is made of tiny collagen strands aligned together, pain or injury of the Achilles is a result of damage to the collagen. When the tendon is damaged, the collagen fibres are ruptured, the body is able to repair itself by laying down new fibres to replace the damaged ones, but it does so in a disorganized way. The collagen fibres in a healthy Achilles tendon are aligned and smooth, but in an injured tendon the new fibres look like a mess of spaghetti, that’s when we feel the collagen build ups (knots) usually 5cm above the heel. When the collagen fibres are not aligned, doing calf stretches alone might do more harm than good, that’s when massaging the tendon is crucial, to massage the Achilles after running helps to increase the blood flow and release the tension.
Our Achilles are connected to our calves, hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors, to release and stretch all those muscles can help prevent Achilles injuries. Most Achilles injuries occur midpoint of the tendon, a few centimeters above the heel, other injuries occur within 2.5cm of the heel bone (insertional).
Causes of Achilles injuries
- Excessive stress on the tendon
- Speed training
- Uphill running
- Forefoot striking
- Weak calf muscles
- Poor ankle range of motion
- Excessive pronation
- Tight hamstrings and calf muscles
How to treat Achilles injuries
- Ice the tendon.
- Massage the tendon to activate the blood flow to promote healing.
- Foam roll the calf muscle, hamstrings.
- Massage the plantar fascia by using a golf ball.
- Stretch the Achilles tendon and calf muscles by pressing your foot against the wall, hands against the wall, move up and forward- hold for 30secs.
How to prevent an Achilles injury
- Strengthen the tendon by performing an eccentric exercise (heel drop); standing on a step on one leg, slowly lower your heel and come back. If you feel pain during the drop, use your other leg to come back up. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps twice/day. This eccentric exercise selectively damages the Achilles tendon by stripping away the misaligned tendon fibres, allowing the body to lay down new fibres in alignment to the healthy collagen fibres.
- Massaging the tendon up & down using the thumb and fingers, will stimulate blood flow, breakdown the collagen build-up and align the new collagen fibres. This should be done after every long runs.
Prevent Achilles Injuries, Strong, Healthy & Happy Running!