If you’re reading this, chances are you are suffering with Achilles issues…. you’ve probably searched high and low… searched for answers in various search engines- bought books, ‘hash tagged’ in Twitter. Am I right? I’ve been there, probably for a good year. Pretty much tried everything to get rid of the dreaded Achilles tendonitis… or Tendinopathy which is what it is now commonly known as. Apparently it is no longer called Tendonitis as this assumed swelling and inflammatory in the Achilles for which there is hardly none due to the lack of blood supply in this area. I can honestly say in the 25 years of being active, this has been my most frustrating injury. It just sits there stubbornly, reminding you every time you put your sock on or pressing on your clutch pedal that it’s still there.. Just as I thought it was getting back on track, it would start niggling again. Sound familiar?
The name Achilles derives from the ancient Greek Mythology – ‘ Achilles’ heel’ and is a popular name for a person’s most vulnerable spot or biggest weakness. The term derives from the legend that the great warrior Achilles who was dipped in the River Styx by his mother, a sea goddess named Thetis, who held her infant son by one heel, and covered him with the waters that would make him immortal. Because she held his heel, it remained dry, and became the only vulnerable place on Achilles. See, you learn something new every day…
Achilles tendinopathy is a condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness of the Achilles tendon that joins your heel bone to your calf muscles. It is thought to be caused by repeated tiny injuries to the Achilles tendon. These may occur for a number of reasons, including overuse of the tendon – for example, in runners. Treatment includes rest, ice packs, painkillers and special exercises to help to stretch and strengthen the Achilles tendon. For most people, the symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy usually clear within 3-6 months of starting treatment.
You won’t need to ever question whether you have this frustrating injury, believe me, you will know. At first the pain in my Achilles was just merely a niggle, I had ramped up my training quite quickly for the Great South Run… Ramping up speed and training is a complete no no… esp if you run like me – on your tippy toes. I think they call this forefoot running? 🙂 The pain would subside after 3 miles, no drama. Come two months later, the pain didn’t actually leave my right heel… fabulous. I proceeded to run a Parkrun and felt the most excruciating pain – although continued to run on it… I then threw in a hill session (just for good measure) with the club on the following Tuesday night and found myself completely out… just like that…
My first mistake I have already mentioned – ramping up the mileage and training too quickly. Secondly, I was wearing the wrong trainers. I was not so kindly provided with trainers for a ‘neutral’ runner only to be told later that I was actually over pronating so needed some trainers for that extra support.
Back to the physio I went… back on the sweaty couch. Turns out I had a misalignment of my hips where one hip was sat slightly above the other one… this meant that one leg was overcompensating for the other and thus causing an imbalance. It also didn’t help that I had spent the last 20 something years wearing stilettos all day at work and had completely shortened my calves. I also run on my toes, so even though my calves look amazing in a dress, when I’m running, the amount of strain I am placing on the bottom part of my legs is incredible. Your glutes should be doing ALL the work – this is why the backside is called the ‘powerhouse’ and is the biggest muscle in the body. I’ve got to be honest, I think mine have sunk into a coma. Sitting on one’s butt in an office does not help so I would advise squats to wake them up a bit.
So how did I fix this stubborn injury? I apologise for following word – RESTING. I know, I know… I can sense you rolling your eyes… but think of the Achilles as lots of little bricks…. when it is injured the bricks are all facing in different directions… so resting helps settle everything down and ensure that the bricks are all calmed down and facing the right way – the medical term for the break down in the Achilles is degeneration. So basically, the more you do, the worse it will get! ‘SOWWY’. SO. what did I do whilst resting…. let me tell you..
- Heel Dips (15 per day), Heel Raises (15 per day) – the raises STRENGTHEN the calve and the Achilles. The dips LENGTHEN the calve / Achilles. Even now, I still do this every. single. day. You do have time! Do it when you are brushing your teeth!
- Massage nightly – get yourself some cheap baby oil, and massage that baby out. There is a lack of blood flow in this area which means it is going to take double the time to heal. Help it along.
- Achilles Brace – I bought mine online – you are supposed to sleep in it but I found that when I had woken up in the morning, it had been ripped off. the aim is to keep your foot in the same place for the maximum amount of time possible to promote the healing process.
- The right trainers! I can’t stress this enough..Orthotics – it might be worth investing in some orthotics if you feel that your injuries are being caused with the way you run. Warning – they ARE expensive, but I have spoken to some runners at my club who have suggested that they wouldn’t be able to run if they didn’t have orthotics in their trainers.
- Running Gait – might be worth getting this checked out.
- REST! uh – huh – sorry…Try wearing an ankle support. I bought this lovely little CEP one from wiggle. there is padding on the Achilles area which basically rubs the Achilles as you run. Genius! I bought mine from here – http://www.wiggle.co.uk/cep-achilles-brace/
- Wear compression socks or calve sleeves – keeps everything tight and compacted.
- Avoid HILLS – Speed sessions when you return to running and go GENTLE!
- Swim, cycle, spin, lift weighs – stay sane!
- Volunteer at park run – stay involved in the running community!
- Shock Wave Therapy – Changed my life. Okay, if you are squeamish or have a low pain threshold, this isn’t for you. I can’t recommend this treatment enough. The shockwaves are an abrupt, high amplitude pulses of mechanical energy, similar to soundwaves, generated by an electromagnetic coil or a spark in water. It is expensive yep… but totally worth it. Sessions take about 20 minutes and can only be done in weekly intervals. There are different levels from 1-10 (intense) so you can start at 1 and work your way up! Loads of info here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extracorporeal_shockwave_therapy
So how long is recovery? difficult question… it depends on the severity, whether you caught it in time and what you are doing to aid recovery. My injury was on and off for a good year. Maybe I will always have a weakness there…
Since February of this year, my Achilles has been on its best behaviour. I can squeeze them really tightly and no pain which is bloody marvelous. My Achilles injury has really taught me to listen to my body – I’m perhaps over cautious nowadays but I don’t want to be sat out for ages and so have learnt never to push my luck like that again. I hope this information is useful to you! Have you ever suffered from a debilitating injury and what did you do for recovery? How did you keep sane during the time! Would love to hear your stories!
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