It’s that time of year again when we dust off the running shoes and get out for a springtime jog.
After a winter of snow sports, getting back into the swing of jogging can be a bit of an effort, and this is a time when we are susceptible to injury as our bodies are not trained to the specific requirements that running places on it.
One common problem area is the Achilles tendon.
The Achilles tendon is the common tendon of the two calf muscles—gastrocnemius and soleus.
It is the thickest tendon in the entire body and is easily identifiable as the thick band that attaches the calf to the heel.
The reason it is so thick is that it is required to transmit a huge amount of force to propel us whilst walking and running.
It is estimated that a force equal to 12 times the body weight is transmitted through the Achilles tendon in sprinting.
Because the tendon is required to transmit such large forces, it is prone to overuse injury. Microdamage of the tendon fibres leads to inflammation within the tendon, causing what’s known as tendinitis.
Achilles tendinitis can be caused by a number of different ways.
These include sudden changes in training such as going from flat to hill running, footwear that doesn’t provide adequate support, faulty foot biomechanics such as fallen arches, or it can result from tight calf muscles.
Determining the specific cause, and then correcting it, is essential in managing tendinitis.
Once your physiotherapist identifies and corrects the causative factor, there are ways to then optimize healing of the tendon.
One common technique used by your physiotherapist to promote healing is called deep transverse friction massage.
It involves rubbing across the tendon fibres to reduce the pain and stimulate tendon repair.
Other modalities such as ice, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation can help the healing tendon.
Once the tendon is healing, stretching exercises should be performed to the calf muscles along with a specific type of exercise called eccentric strengthening, which has been shown to strengthen the tendon.
When the tendon is pain-free and strong, it is safe to get out into the spring sunshine for a jog again.