As an athlete, your Achilles heel can withstand stress from your daily activities. Running, jumping, and pivoting movements all cause micro tears on your tendon that may worsen over time. Similar to how Achilles suffered a painful blow to his heel, you may feel the same kind of pain if you don’t take any steps to protect it.
Injuring Your Achilles Heel
Your Achilles heel — or more accurately the Achilles tendon, is the strongest and thickest tendon in your body. It’s a springy band of tissue at the back of your ankle that you can feel all the way up to your calf. This tendon is essential for walking, running, and raising yourself on your toes. As it supports any kind of movement on your feet, it is also the easiest tendon to rupture. At the first burst of pain on your calf, visit an orthopedic surgeon in your area immediately to avoid future complications.
Injuring your Achilles tendon is common in sports, especially in the areas of:
Though injury in high-activity sports is usual, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you if you don’t engage in any kind of sport. If you’re between the ages of 30-50, you’re more prone to developing this condition than other non-athletes. Placing too much strain on your calf when you stretch or when you jump can still cause tears in the tendon, which is a condition called tendinopathy.
Tendinopathy: Sharp Pain and How to Stop It
The common symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy are pain, bruising, and swelling in the affected area. In extreme cases, you’d hear a pop and feel an immediate stab of pain at the back of your ankle and lower leg.
Minor to moderate Achilles tendon injuries heal on their own so don’t fret. What you should do as the pain subsides is to avoid applying further pressure on the injured area. Apply ice for 20 minutes whenever the pain flares up to reduce swelling as well as relieve pain. You can also apply hot compress on the inflamed area to increase circulation. You may take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, to help with the pain and swelling.
Wearing a brace or a cast can also keep the ankle from moving, allowing the tendon to heal. While sleeping, wear a night splint to restrain movement on your ankles and avoid accidental tears as you sleep.
When the injury is extreme, your doctor may suggest physical therapy. The therapist will prescribe a customized program that addresses your specific case. But the overall goal is to restore your ankle range of motion and the strength of your leg muscles.
Before any physical activity, remember to stretch and warm up the muscles. A misstep can overstrain the muscles and result in micro tears in the tendons. Avoid strenuous activities that require intense running and jumping. Refrain from applying too much pressure on the tips of your toes and from callous stretching.
Another way to prevent Achilles problems is by keeping the calf and leg muscles strong and flexible. Allowing yourself to rest between high levels of physical exercise also helps prevent an overload on the tendon and causing injury.
If the pain on your ankle or calf persists, see your doctor. Minor or not, torn tendons still hurt, and it could affect your mobility in the long run. Take care of your Achilles heel today so it doesn’t become your weakness tomorrow, whether you’re on or off the court.