As the biggest tendon in your body, there’s a good chance your Achilles tendon gets a workout every day. Since it provides the primary connection between your foot and your leg (connecting the heel bone to your calf muscle), even if you lead a mostly sedentary lifestyle, you’re still relying on your Achilles tendon to walk, climb stairs — even stand up.
Most people associated Achilles tendon injuries with athletes. And it’s true, many injuries that involve Achilles tendon tears are the result of impact sports that require jumping or running. But what’s also true is that anyone — including non-athletes — can injure their Achilles tendon, and not all injuries are tears. In fact, Achilles tendonitis can affect anyone, including people who lead sedentary lifestyles. Knowing the signs of Achilles tendon injuries and how to prevent them can help you avoid pain and disability, no matter what type of lifestyle you lead.
What causes Achilles tendon injuries?
The causes of Achilles tendon injuries can vary, depending on the type of injury.
An Achilles tendon tear or rupture usually occurs as the result of an impact to your foot and ankle, typically from an intense physical activity that involves running, jumping, or pivoting your feet. Basketball, football, and soccer players are all more likely to develop Achilles tendon ruptures because of the impacts they experience during play and practice sessions. Ruptures can also be caused by car accidents or falls.
When your Achilles tendon ruptures, you may feel or even hear a sharp “popping” noise, followed by intense pain and an inability to use your ankle normally.
Achilles tendonitis occurs when the Achilles tendon becomes irritated and inflamed. Tendonitis has two primary causes:
overuse or strain, like training too much, too quickly, or without proper warmup
degenerative changes in the tendons that occur with age or with impact-related injuries over time
Both types of tendon injuries — ruptures and tendonitis — have similar risk factors that make injury more likely, including:
not wearing proper shoes or shoes that fit well
failing to warm up before a physical activity
having weak calf muscles or flat feet
returning to an intense physical activity after taking a long “break” from that activity
starting a brand-new activity after being sedentary or relatively inactive
working out or running in cold weather or running up a steep incline
being overweight or obese
having certain chronic diseases, like high blood pressure or diabetes
taking some medications, including steroid injections and some types of antibiotics
Preventing Achilles tendon injuries
Since both Achilles tendon ruptures and tendonitis share similar risk factors, the steps for preventing both types of injuries are fairly similar as well. First, it’s essential to warm up before any type of physical activity, even if you regularly participate in that activity. Warming up literally does just that — stretching warms up the muscles and tendons so they’re more flexible and ready for action. Going straight into physical activity without warming up first leaves your tendon (and your muscles) wide open for injuries.
Warming up before engaging in physical activity is important, but it’s also very important to stretch your calf muscles every day, whether you plan on participating in an activity or not. Standing and seated calf raises are also important for strengthening the calf muscles to prevent overstraining the Achilles tendon. Strong calf muscles help distribute strain and load more evenly, no matter what activity you’re doing. Since both seated and standing calf raises work out the calf in different ways, it’s important to include both in your warmup or workout routine. Standing on tiptoes repeatedly is another good way to exercise your calf muscles.
Wearing supportive shoes that fit well and that are designed for your specific sport or activity is also important for avoiding injury. Depending on the activity you prefer, your ankles, heels, and calves can be subjected to different types of strain in different ways. Sport-specific athletic shoes are designed to absorb impact more effectively, in addition to providing support needed for your routine.
Don't ignore tendon or calf pain.
If you have pain, tenderness, swelling or other symptoms in or around your calf, ankle, or heel, delaying treatment can only make things worse. Dr. Arash Dini, MD, is a leading provider of targeted, effective, state-of-the-art treatment for Achilles tendon injuries. Dr. Dini works with every patient to develop a custom approach that's tailored to their needs for faster healing and optimal recovery. To schedule your appointment with Dr. Dini, book your visit online today.