What is Achilles tendinitis?
Achilles tendinitis is the Latin term for an inflammation of the Achilles tendon. Typical symptoms of this condition include irritation in the heel tendon, its surrounding areas and pain emanating from the heel tendon's attachment to the bottom of the heel bone.
The three large leg muscles on the leg combine to form the Achilles tendon, attaching to the heel bone. The function of these muscles is to enable movements such as bending the knee and stretching the foot. They are used extensively in everyday activities like walking, running or jumping.
The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the human body. Like all other tendons, the Achilles tendon hardens as the body grows older. This puts you at an increased risk of injury.
Despite the strength of the Achilles tendon, many people suffer injuries related to this particular group of muscles. In most cases, it’s due to an increased load on the tendon e.g. increasing your walking/ running distance or number of jumps.
Running, walking or jumping on hard surfaces, as well as hard shoes and abnormal footing (for example, a predisposition to flatfoot or hollow foot) also increases the risk of inflaming the Achilles tendon.
When the Achilles tendon becomes overloaded, it will feel sore and often swell due to the inflammation. It’s important you listen to these symptoms. If you ignore the pain and continue stressing the muscle or overloading with activity, the tendon is more likely to rupture. A ruptured Achilles tendon will often require surgery.
Diagnosis and treatment
You should avoid jumping, running or similar activities burdening your Achilles tendon. Stay physically active at the same time, though. Not only will this assist the treatment of your Achilles tendon, it will help you prevent and reduce pain in the rest of your leg muscles and joints.
Cycling, swimming and walking short distances may be okay even when you are injured. You should wear soft, shock-absorbing shoes - preferably with a small heel lift - to relieve the Achilles tendon during everyday activities in this recovery period.
Movement and stability exercises
If you suffer from inflammation in your Achilles tendon, it’s important to keep using your ankle to maintain flexibility and work on its stability. You may experience some pain in the Achilles tendon, both during and after exercising.
The pain should never be severe, and your pain level should quickly return to what you were experiencing before the activity. Your pain should not increase from day to day either. Our exercise ‘heel lifts with bended knees’ is great for improving stability and can be found in the training examples below.
Use the Injurymap screening tool to find out if you are ready to treat your Achilles tendon pain with rehabilitative exercises. You will get 14 days free access.
Stretching your leg muscles and Achilles tendon should be a core part of treating the inflammation. You can perform stretches while standing on a staircase with your heels extending out past the step.
Alternatively, you can use a wall, as in the example below. Stretching exercises should be performed slowly and must be held for around 30 seconds.
Strength training is a crucial part of your exercise routine. It builds up the Achilles tendon’ ability to withstand the daily load of all your activities without risking further damage. It typically takes between three to six months to build up sufficient strength in the Achilles tendon before you can resume heavy sporting activities safely.