Achilles tendinopathy is a painful condition that occurs in the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon joins the heel bone to your calf muscle and it is the largest tendon in the body. It helps your foot move and lets you tip toe and propel yourself when you run, climb or walk.
Achilles tendinopathy can be caused by a single large injury, or from repeated tiny injuries that occur over time. So, while Achilles tendinopathy is a common ailment for people who play sport, it's also found in people who aren't very physically active.
Achilles tendinopathy is usually painful, and the pain is felt in the back of the leg or heel. It's common for this pain to come and go, and be most prominent first thing in the morning, or straight after exercising. In most cases, Achilles tendinopathy will escalate over time, and the pain will be felt for longer, and more severely.
There are a number of ways that you can help Achilles tendinopathy at home, like through the use of icing, rest and gentle stretches. However, if the pain is felt in the areas of the Achilles region for ten days or more, you should contact a medical professional to have it looked at. If you already suspect you have Achilles tendinitis, you should get it looked at immediately, as the longer the condition is left, the harder it is to treat.
Sometimes, a physician may suggest localised steroid shots or orthotics to treat the ailment. Shockwave therapy, Dry needling, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections are all methods that are commonly used to treat Achilles tendinopathy. Shockwave therapy is highly recommended, as it is a non-invasive treatment that stimulates an immune response within the body which initiates healing to the treated area. It's done by a podiatrist or doctor who will use a handheld probe to send high and low-energy shockwaves to the site of an injury.
In very severe cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove damaged areas and to repair what's left of them. Even when surgery is conducted successfully, some patients may not be able to engage in high-impact sports again. This is why it's so vital to have Achilles tendinopathy diagnosed and treated quickly.
It's important to note that while the conditions of Achilles tendinopathy and Achilles tendonitis sound similar, they are actually different. Achilles tendonitis develops when Achilles tendinopathy escalates to a more serious condition. However, the symptoms and treatment of the two ailments is similar. Below we touch on exercises and stretches that are appropriate for both tendonitis and tendinopathy.
People with Achilles tendinopathy may experience some, or all, of the following symptoms:
Whether or not aerobic exercise is recommended, will depend on your specific type of Achilles tendinopathy. Some cases can be rehabilitated through Achilles tendon stretches and exercises, however, some Achilles tendon disorders will need to be rested while they recover.
You should always consult a medical professional before undertaking a new exercise program. If a medical professional does recommend aerobic exercise, they will likely suggest something that's low impact, like walking or water aerobics.
When you step up your exercises significantly, you're pushing your body and making it more prone to injury. Achilles tendonitis is much more likely to occur when it's overworked, or when a load that's too high is put on it.
For this reason, you should gradually increase exercise at a steady pace. A good rule of thumb is to increase it by 10% per week. For example, if you're running 3kms five times a week, you can increase the distance to 3.3kms for a week, before raising it another 10%. These increments will allow your body to adapt to the extended activity, and lower the risk of an Achilles tendon injury.
Strong calf muscles can remove the stress that's put on the Achilles tendon, which reduces the risk of injuring it. As well as reducing the risk of developing the ailment, Strengthening exercises that are aimed at your calves and lower limbs can also help rehabilitate the area. However, some cases of Achilles tendonitis should not be rehabilitated while they heel. So it's important to check with a podiatrist, physio, or doctor before undertaking any exercise.
Like strengthening exercises, stretches can be beneficial both to prevent Achilles tenonitis and to treat it. As a preventative measure, stretches can help to increase flexibility in this area, which can help to stop injuries from occurring. As a treatment, stretching can help provide relief by loosening the area. To target the Achilles and calf areas specifically, you can do the stretches listed above.
Ill-fitting shoes or shoes with poor support can cause Achilles tendinopathy. When exercising - especially during cardio or aerobic exercise - you will likely be using your feet and this will include your Achilles tendon. So, your shoe should always fit correctly and provide adequate support to prevent injury. Well-fitting and supportive shoes can release the tension in the tendon significantly.
If you don't give your body time to heal between intense workouts, muscles are more prone to injury, and any micro-tears that may occur can worsen. This is especially true if your body isn't used to being active for extended periods of time. If you feel any soreness after exercising or playing sport, you should rest until you feel normal again.
If you suspect Achilles tendinopathy, you should always have it checked out by a professional as soon as possible. Podiatrists are doctors of the feet and lower limbs, so they are experts in diagnosing and treating Achilles tendinopathy.
A podiatrist will be able to undertake a physical exam to diagnose Achilles tendinopathy. If you do they can work with you to put together a treatment plan, as well as recommend stretches and exercises that can help with related Achilles tendon pain.