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The Achilles is the largest tendon connecting the two major calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the heel. Its inflammation is called Achilles tendonitis.
When the calf muscle becomes tight the Achilles is forced to work hard. Inflammation is due to repetitive stress, which leads to micro-tears to the tendon. If left untreated, scar tissue can form, which limits the flexibility and blood flow to the tendon, hence preventing the ligament from repairing. It can also develop severe degenerations and bone spurs, or rupture completely, requiring an operation and a much longer healing time. It is therefore important not to run with the injury as it will only reoccur or worsen. Recovery can take up to 6 months, so it is advisable to get professional help when the first signs appear.
The Achilles tendon is the biggest tendon of the human body, taking a huge amount of strain. The cause of its inflammation is not always so straightforward, and to treat it, it is important to find out the source and investigate what changes might have brought it on. The source might lie in the foot, calf, knee or other body parts.Some of the most common causes of the inflammation are:
The best advice I can give you to avoid the injury is to always listen to your body! Failing that, or with some unexpected surprises popping up in your running life, here are some other tips:
1. Facing the wall take one step forward, leaving the back leg behind, feet flat on the floor. Put your hands against the wall in front of you, then bending them slowly, start leaning forward from the hips. The front leg bends in the knee, the back leg stays long and straight. This will stretch the calf and hip flexor of your back leg. Don't forget the other leg!
2. Facing a table, take a smaller step towards it, keeping the other leg behind. Bend your knees as if you were going to sit down, keeping more weight on the back leg and using the arms for support. This will stretch the Achilles tendon of your back leg.
3. And one of my favorite torture stretches: standing straight, give yourself a hug behind your back, placing the hands on the opposite elbows. Take a step forward, keeping the other leg behind flat on the floor. With your legs straight slowly start to bend forward from the hips. This will nicely stretch the back of the leg.
Note: Get into these stretching poses slowly, go as far until you feel the tightness and hold. Stretches should be held for 20-30 seconds (ideally 30). Again, listen to your body. Never force your body into anything uncomfortable or too painful. You are stretching to make running more fun, not to get another injury.
1. This exercise is recommended for calf and foot strengthening. Stand straight, one foot over the edge of the stairs, the other bent behind. Make sure the forefoot and the heel of the foot on the stair are in one line. Support yourself with the arm on the wall, but do not lean against the wall. Slowly push your heel away upwards, and then lower it down. Repeat 8 times. If this feels comfortable, make a few repetitions. If you find balancing in this exercise difficult, start off simply standing on the floor and move to stairs whenever you are ready.
2. This exercise will work your calves, hams and glutes and more. Hands on hips, take a step sideways, pointing your feet about 45º outwards. Bend your knees, making sure they stay above your heels and don't go out beyond. In this position, slowly push your heels away from the floor and then lower them. Remember, your hips stay at the same point. You are only lifting the heels, not the hips.
It's important to replace your trainers after a six to eight month period. I personally would avoid keeping shoes for a year as there is a high risk of picking up an injury. Ensure that you get your gait reassessed each time you replace your running shoes, as the shoes are constantly upgraded which often alters the support in some form. Anyone who wears orthotics should also have them assessed every year, as the body will always change with time. Visit one of our stores for a free personal shoe fitting.
In addition to your running shoes, you might also want to consider the shoes you spend most of your time in. When the foot is not being held securely in a shoe with no arch support it can develop a flat arch, which causes the Achilles to be bowed. This means the runner's entire body weight is being directed into the Achilles at an angle, which can lead to a possible rupture or tear.
Alternating between different shoe profiles, for example a pump shoe and a trainer, can alter the length of the Achilles. It is always best to keep footwear consistent if you can. Both as adults and as children our bodies are constantly changing and our feet are altered by what footwear we use. If we gain or lose weight then areas of the body are being altered, and during this process we can pick up injuries. Our feet are what take all of our weight. In order to support the body properly, it is important that we see shoes not just as a fashionable item, but also as an important tool for our bodies to function correctly.
These are exercises that we've found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not certified instructors. Always consult your specialist before beginning any exercise programme. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
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