With the the nation busy increasing their activity levels over the last 2 months, it is no coincidence physiotherapists across the UK are about to see an influx of people with Achilles tendon and calf pain, but in an effort to give you some proactive support, read on for some useful tips for you to avoid developing these painful issues.
Firstly, why does your Achilles tendon become painful? The simple science of the matter is this: by increasing the load on the cells of your Achilles tendons or muscles too quickly and/or by increasing distance, pace, or frequency of runs too rapidly, you are putting yourself at risk of disrupting the tight-knit alignment of the cells within your tendons, also known as the collagen matrix.
A healthy tendon should look like a bundle of uncooked spaghetti, with the fibers running parallel to each other allowing for maximum strength and movement. With tendinosis the fibers become disorganized, thicker and weaker. These are the beginning stages of tendon tears. 97% of tendon ruptures happen due to worsening degeneration of the tendon!
But worry not! Tendinosis can be resolved with the right treatment and in the early stages simple self-help can make a significant difference. If you have been experiencing symptoms of Achilles pain for less than 3 weeks, try these tips!
1) Start by strengthening the calf. Try doing some simple calf raises on the edge of the step. We recommend that you start two-footed and progress to single foot after a week.
2) Combine high and low impact exercises such as running with cycling or swimming through your week, to reduce the constant stress on your tendons.
3) Increase frequency before increasing distance. For example, if you are already doing 5 kilometer runs twice a week, ramp up to 3 then 4 times per week before adding too much more distance. Set yourself small increase goals each week and work steadily up to you optimal goal. Progression should occur every one to two weeks, but no more than 10% of any one variable (frequency / distance).
4) Review your footwear. Make sure you run in appropriate running shoes (which tend to have a good heel cushion and therefore heel raise), which do not apply a lot of pressure onto the Achilles tendon itself, as poor footwear can cause significant issues! If you’ve worn a pair of shoes for a long time, consider replacing them.
5) If weight loss is your goal, try to do your exercise in the morning for at least 30 minutes. Make sure that you exercise at a moderate pace (the pace that makes you short of breath but still doesn’t prevent you from being able to just hold a brief conversation) as this proves to be the most effective boost your metabolic rate through the day.
6) If in doubt or if your symptoms have been going on for longer than 3 weeks – see a physiotherapist. We can complete detailed assessments of your foot biomechanics, current strength and stability, and take into account previous injuries and medical history to best advise you on exercising safely to prevent serious injury, which as we all know is better than cure.