Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What is Achilles tendonitis and how can I treat it?

I just started running again after almost a month off.  I am so glad to be on the road again.  I have suffered from many different injuries over the past 2 years, but nothing has been worse than my Achilles tendonitis.  I was able to run through hip pain, IT Band pain and tightness, knee pain, and shin splints with only minor setbacks.   Achilles tendonitis was by far the worst for me.  I could run, but the second I stopped running I could barely walk.

What is the Achilles tendonitis?
The Achilles tendon is the large tendon on the back of your lower leg that connects your calf muscles to your heel.  Achilles tendonitis is typically the result of overuse, which causes the tendon to become inflamed.  If you continue to stress the Achilles tendon, you could cause a tear or rupture.  That would mean surgery and possibly 18 months off of running.  

What are some of the symptoms?
Possible symptoms include pain (either sharp or dull) along the back of the Achilles tendon, but primarily it is found closer to the heel.  Other symptoms include limited ankle flexibility, a buildup of scar tissue (which feels like a bump) on the tendon, and redness or heat buildup.  I felt extreme tightness in my Achilles tendon and pain about 3 inches up from my heel on either side of my tendon.

What should I do at the onset of pain?
If you have Achilles tendon pain, you should stop running immediately.  This is not something to mess around with.  Start by icing your Achilles tendon.  I like to use the cup method (see my previous blog post “Ice Ice Baby”).  Dr. Cool has an ice/compression wrap that can be useful if you are on the go.  You can also take ibuprofen to help with the inflammation.  You should ice and take ibuprofen until the inflammation goes away.

What should I do when I can’t run?
In my blog post “How To Stay Active While Injured” I discuss some lower impact alternatives to running.  Just be honest with yourself about if you feel pain.  The more you injure yourself, the longer it will take to recover.  Swimming, cycling, using the elliptical and walking are some great low impact exercises.

When can I start running again?
The best way to get back on the road is to strengthen your muscles.  This Eccentric Calf Exercise was recommended to me (see the video).  You can slowly progress to using a jump rope, then jumping jacks.  If you can do these without pain, then you can start to run again.  I would strongly suggest that you take it easy when you start to run though.  The best prevention for Achilles tendonitis is to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your feet, calves, and shins.  

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