The mythological Greek warrior Achilles had one vulnerability—his heel. Anyone who has ever experienced pain or an injury to the tendon that shares Achilles’ name knows all too well the debilitating pain caused by an injury to the small but crucial tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel. Also known as the calcaneal tendon, it is the thickest and most powerful tendon in the body. When your calf muscles contract, they lift the heel by the Achilles tendon, creating the action that allows you to walk, jump, and run. A rupture, dislocation, tear, or a case of tendonitis in the Achilles can be extremely painful and slow to heal. What can you do to prevent an injury to your Achilles heel, and when should you see your doctor about your pain?
How to Prevent Injuries to Your Achilles Heel
Active adults, especially those who participate in such recreational activities as soccer, basketball, and tennis that involve a lot of running, jumping, and fast stops, are at an increased risk of an Achilles heel injury. To protect your tendons:
- Stretch regularly to strengthen your calf muscles.
- If you are just beginning a new fitness routine, build up your time, distance, frequency, and intensity slowly.
- Vary your fitness routine, maintaining a balance between low and high-impact activities. Low-impact activities include swimming, biking, and walking, and high-impact activities include running, rugby, skiing, and gymnastics.
- Avoid running on hard or slippery surfaces. If you enjoy winter weather running, wear athletic shoes that fit correctly and cushion your heels.
How to Manage Achilles Heel Pain
If you are experiencing discomfort in your Achilles from overuse, consider the pain management treatments below. If you believe you have experienced a tear, rupture, or a more severe injury, talk to your doctor immediately.
- While challenging and frustrating to active individuals and those who play sports, resting is one of the best steps you can take to minimize Achilles-related pain.
- Stretching will help you to regain your range of motion.
- Use a cold compress to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Talk to your doctor about tissue regeneration therapy, a process that uses acoustic waves to stimulate the development of newer, stronger blood vessels in damaged tissues.
When to Talk to Your Doctor About Achilles Heel Pain
If your pain begins at the onset of an injury, especially if you hear a popping or snapping sound at the time of the event, see a doctor immediately, as you may have experienced an Achilles tendon tear or rupture. Pain that builds up over time due to overuse or pain caused by a partial tear may not require invasive treatment, but you should still make an appointment with your doctor if your pain is severe or does not improve with rest, stretching, and a cold compress after several weeks. Your doctor may recommend surgery, physical therapy, over-the-counter pain medicine, or rest, depending on the extent of your injury.