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Achilles tendinitis: a common overuse injury

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Do you experience dull pain near the back of your heel or in the back of your leg after your regular run or after playing your favourite sport? When you ramp up your exercise is the pain more severe or prolonged? If so, you may have Achilles tendinitis.

The Achilles tendon is the thick, strong, springy band of tissue that connects the muscles from the middle of your calf to your heel bone. You use your Achilles tendon when you walk, run or jump. Achilles tendinitis occurs when the Achilles tendon is repeatedly strained. The Achilles tendon becomes less flexible, weaker and more prone to injury as we age. Middle-aged weekend warriors and runners who suddenly intensify their training often suffer from Achilles tendinitis.

Fortunately Achilles tendinitis normally responds well to self-care treatment. If your Achilles tendon is painful take the following steps:

  • Ease off all exercise for a few days
  • Apply an ice pack to the painful area
  • Use a compression bandage to reduce the swelling and restrict the movement of your foot
  • Sleep with your foot raised above your heart

If you have ongoing pain around your Achilles tendon, or the pain is severe, book an appointment with your family physician and ask for a referral to a Canadian Certified Pedorthist. Your Pedorthist will conduct a full assessment of your feet and lower limbs and will evaluate how you run and walk. Based on this assessment, your Pedorthist may recommend a foot orthotic to ease the pressure on your Achilles tendon.

As Achilles tendinitis can also be caused by wearing old or inappropriate athletic shoes for your sport, your Pedorthist will also look at your shoes and advise you on whether they have appropriate support and cushioning. New shoes that don’t fit properly or provide adequate support can be as damaging as worn out shoes.

Achilles tendinitis cannot always be prevented but the following tips will help you reduce your risk:

  • If you are new to a sport, gradually ramp up your activity level to your desired intensity and duration
  • If you experience pain while exercising, stop
  • Avoid strenuous activity that puts excessive stress on your Achilles tendon. If you have a demanding workout planned, warm up slowly and thoroughly
  • Always exercise in shoes that are in good condition and appropriate for your activity or sport
  • Be sure to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon before and after working out

If you suffer from Achilles tendinitis make sure you treat it properly and promptly. If self-care techniques don’t work, don’t delay. Book a consultation with a foot care expert or you may find yourself sidelined from your favourite sports and activities.

By Brandon Wittig, C. Ped (C), Kitchener, Ontario

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