This injury is one of the most common of the garden variety running injuries. It presents as pain and inflammation of the Achilles Tendon … the tendon that attaches the strong posterior calf muscles, the Gastrocnemius and Soleus, to the back of the heel bone, the Calcaneus. The injury can range from nagging chronic pain that is often accompanied by a thickening of the tissue of the tendon itself, or an acutely painful sudden onset that is accompanied by lots of swelling around the ankle joint.
Causes and Considerations
If you have a sore and/or inflamed Achilles tendon, you are overusing your calf in either the landing phase or take off phase of the stride, or both. It’s simple and so the correction is also simple. It is often quite amazing how quickly it can resolve, even in long standing chronic cases, when the runner’s stride is corrected. The important thing is to stop using the muscles of the calf for force production in the running stride. As I pointed out in other common overuse running injuries, the habit has been to overuse the legs and underuse the core.
To heal a sore Achilles Tendon, this pattern has to shift. Often with foot and ankle injuries there is a wrong use of the ground; either under-using the ground by popping off of it, usually on the balls of the foot; or overusing the ground by pushing off it excessively. Both of these habits misuse the calf. The excessive pushing off may be functional in rare occasions such as a finish-line sprint, when you are asking for 110% from yourself, but to be pushing off mile after mile as your “go-to” mode of transportation, the calf muscles will get stressed and tighten up, resulting in excessive forces at the Achilles tendon.
It is important to reinstate a natural push off (stretch reflex in the calf and foot muscles and resiliency of the connective tissue a/k/a “natural springs”) and anything more is not necessary. These mechanisms are passive and require no active participation in the form of extra effort.
Healing Achilles Tendon pain:
The main idea here is to stop the overuse, and to do that you have to be fully grounded.
- The ideal foot strike would be sinking or settling the bottom part of the heel onto the ground under the body with the leg perpendicular to the ground, and allowing for a smooth and soft heel-to-toe transition with each step. Visualizing the foot as a soft slipper might help. (Or come up with visualizations that suite you personally).
- Shaking out the legs before and after workouts, and before a gentle stretching of the calf. This is done much the way you would see sprinters shaking out their legs before competition.
- Focusing on a glide-like running stride, smooth along the ground, minimizing any vertical or bouncy movement.
- Shortening the stride and eliminating excessive heel striking.
- Focus on rolling off the ball of the foot. This focus is to help you decrease any active push off.
- Release the ankle as the foot leaves the ground so that the foot/ankle is relaxed.
- If it is acutely painful, stay Slow, Easy, and Flat! And even if it is more chronic and/or low grade take it easy for a couple of weeks; running fast and running hills requires more focus and experience to keep your form right.
- One important rule: if, after trying to stay smooth and relaxed for a half mile or so, you are unable to stop limping, you may need more help than just reading instructions.
Visit Rehabilitation Coaching / Recovery Running to see how Radiant Running can help you get past your injury.