The pain at the back of your heel could be Achilles Tendinitis – but what is that and how do you get rid of it?!
Achilles Tendinitis effectively means Achilles tendon inflammation (swelling), and this is often due to repeated stress – hence it being a common problem for runners as you pound the pavements, increase your mileage and push your bodies to the limit.
There are two types of Achilles Tendinitis – insertional and non-insertional (at the bottom, or in the middle):
Non-insertional Achilles Tendinitis is the more common of the two for runners, and it’s where the fibres in the middle portion of the tendon have begun to break down with tiny tears, swell and thicken.
Insertional Achilles Tendinitis involves the lower portion of the heel, where it inserts on to the bone, and bone spurs can often form as a result of this, as the body tries to heal itself. This is more common with older runners, as a result of the years and years of overuse.
Symptoms can include:
- Pain/stiffness of Achilles in the morning
- Pain along the tendon/back of heel that worsens with activity
- Pain along the tendon/back of heel the day after exercise
- Tickening of the tendon
- Bone spur
As Achilles Tendinitis is an overuse injury, the onset of these symptoms is usually gradual – if you experience a pop or a snap to the back of your heel, it’s more likely that you’ve ruptured your Achilles tendon, so should stop reading this blog and go and see a doctor immediately! For the rest of us – read on!
Ah the all-important bit! So we’ve decided that the symptoms fit – now what can we do to get rid of the pesky pain and get back to running again?! Well the first step is easy, but it’s what every runner hates hearing – rest. Yep, before anything else begins, the first step is to calm the inflammation down, and this is best done through a combination of resting, so not to aggravate the tendon further, and applying ice to the tendon to reduce the swelling. You should be resting and icing until the pain subsides, so you can’t feel pain whilst doing your every-day activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, etc.
The second step, once you’re able to go about your daily activities without experiencing Achilles pain, is to stretch the calf. A Sports Massage would also be beneficial at this point too, but here are 2 simple stretches that you can do yourself to regain some flexibility in the calves and out a little less strain on the Achilles Tendon. Also, remember that the calf is made up of two different muscles; the Soleus and the Gastrocnemius, so make sure to stretch both! See below:
“How long should I be stretching before I can move on to the next step?”
How long is a piece of string? This answer will vary from individual to individual, but generally the longer you’ve had the tendinitis for, the longer it’ll take to loosen the calves up. Start off by doing these stretches for 3 sets of 30 seconds, twice daily for a week.
The third step is strengthening. The inflammation is under control, the muscles have been loosened off, it’s now time to start building some strength back in to the calves to prevent this from happening again in the future.
These two heel drop exercises should be performed twice daily, for 3 sets of 15 repetitions for 2 weeks. These can be performed on any step, from the ones in your house, to the curb outside your house, to a step up box as shown in the photo.
- Rest – calm the inflammation down with icing and resting.
- Stretch – get some flexibility in to the calves again through stretching & Sports Massage.
- Strengthen – rebuild the strength back in to the calves to protect the Achilles tendon and help to stop this happening again in the future.