Athletes, Beware!

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Named for one of the great mythological Greek warriors, the Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel bones.

It’s a long tendon compared to others and can be felt above your heel behind your ankle. The Achilles tendon is what gives your foot the ability to point your toes, move your foot around, and push off the ground to walk or run.

Obviously, an injury to the Achilles tendon is serious business. Unfortunately, it’s also rather common for both beginner and professional athletes to suffer injury to their Achilles tendons.

What causes an injury to the Achilles and what are the symptoms? What is the treatment and how can you prevent an Achilles’ injury? You’re about to find out.

Bring It On

An Achilles injury may result from overuse or by overdoing physical activity. If you haven’t exercised much and then suddenly begin strenuous activity, you put your Achilles at risk. Inadequate stretching before exercise or tight muscles and tendons also makes you susceptible to injury.

Women who wear high heel shoes are especially prone to Achilles injuries, as are those who have foot problems such as flat feet or fallen arches. With this condition, the arch of the foot collapses when a step is taken, stretching the tendons and muscles of the foot.

An injury to the Achilles is most common in sports such as running, dance, football, gymnastics, baseball, basketball, volleyball, and tennis. However, nearly any athletic endeavor can result in Achilles tendon injury.

Achilles tendonitis results when the tendon becomes inflamed, swollen, and painful. A severe injury to the tendon may cause it to partially tear or completely rupture. Sprinters are especially susceptible to a torn Achilles tendon, as the sudden, powerful tensing of the calf muscle at the beginning of the race may be too much too fast for the Achilles to withstand, causing it to tear.

Feel the Pain

An injury to the Achilles tendon will cause pain at the back of the foot and ankle. The pain will grow worse when you move your ankle or try to stand on your toes. If it’s tendonitis, the pain may be tolerable at first and gradually worsen. If the tendon has been torn, the pain will be sudden and severe. Along with pain, the area will be tender, possibly swollen, and difficult to move. In the case of a torn Achilles, you may actually hear a popping or snapping sound at the time of the injury. With a torn tendon, it will be difficult to point your toes or flex your foot.

Getting Better

Mild to moderate injuries, such as tendonitis, will likely heal on their own with time. To speed healing, your doctor may prescribe a few do-it-yourself steps.

First of all, rest your leg by using it as little as possible. Second, put ice on your injury 20 or 30 minutes every few hours for several days to reduce swelling and pain. Third, elevate your leg or wear an elastic bandage around your ankle and lower leg to help reduce swelling. For pain and swelling, take an anti-inflammatory painkiller such as Aleve, Motrin, or Advil as prescribed. Your doctor may also recommend wearing a shoe insert to keep your tendon from stretching while it heals. Strengthening and stretching exercises may also be helpful.

Severe injuries, on the other hand, may require a cast for up to 10 weeks-or surgery. How long you’ll have to sit out of the game depends on the severity of your injury. Recovery can take weeks or even months. In the meantime, you may want to take up a less stressful sport such as swimming. Until you are completely pain-free don’t push yourself. Overworking an injured Achilles may cause permanent damage.

Jogging Around Injury

To help ensure your Achilles stays strong and healthy, stretch before and after exercise, reduce your uphill running, and wear comfortable, supportive shoes. Additionally, increase the amount and intensity of physical activity at a slow pace and stop exercising if you feel any tightness or pain in your heel or calf.

With these tips, your Achilles tendon will be stronger than even the fabled Greek warrior.

If you live in the Gilbert area, treat yourself right by calling or emailing today to get started on an exercise program that will change your life for the best.

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