Many of you have probably heard the story of Achilles whose mother feared he would die young and dipped his body in the River of Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability. However, she was holding him by his heel, so his heel became vulnerable and was not protected by the powers offered by the mystical river. Later during the Trojan war, Achilles was slain by an arrow in his heel shot by Paris.
Like Achilles many people suffer from “Achilles heel” pain most commonly resulting from tightness, various overuse patterns and improper shoe gear during physical activity. When caught early, Achilles pain can be treated successfully with modifications of activity, beginning a stretching program and adjustments in shoe gear and/or orthotics to correct faulty biomechanics.
Overtime and with age, the Achilles becomes tight due to less physical activity and/or a sedentary lifestyle. People with a desk jobs, or who wear high heels are also at risk. As well as, people who do not routinely perform stretching after physical activity or athletes who do no stretch or perform myofascial release techniques post training. You may notice when you are walking your heel comes off the floor early, or you have pain performing exercises like squatting or lunging that require a degree of ankle flexibility. You may find it difficult to keep your heels on the ground when performing these types of exercises or experience pain in the back of the ankle while performing them. These are all signs that your Achilles is likely too tight and your ankle does not have adequate flexibility.
“Overuse” disorders refer to people who suddenly begin a new activity or do too much too soon. This rapid change in activity causes too much stress on the tendon, leading to micro-injury. The body is unable to repair the injury. The structure of the tendon is then altered, resulting in continued pain. Athletes are at higher risk of developing disorders of the Achilles. Others with occupations that stress the ankle or feet are also as risk. “Weekend warriors” or individual who are less conditioned and participate in physical activity on the weekends only or infrequently are at risk. Other risks, include people with excessive pronation or flat fleet. These individuals have a tendency to develop Achilles pain due to the increased demands placed on the tendon when walking or engaging in other physical activity. If these individuals wear shoes without adequate stability, their excessive pronation or flat feet can further aggravate the Achilles tendon. Shoe gear is also important; you want to make sure you have the correct type of shoe for your specific activity. You also want to make sure your shoes are not worn down. You may also consider alternating your shoes especially if you are a long distance runner.
Prevention: Stretching the Achilles Band or towel calf stretch
1: Laying or sitting, loop a band or towel around the ball of your foot and pull the band/towel towards your chest.
2: Make sure to keep your foot straight as well as only a slight bend in the knee or no bend
3: Hold the stretch 30 seconds and repeat 5-6 times daily
Leg press calf stretch
1: Sitting on the leg press machine, lower your feet to the bottom of the leg press platform so your heels are hanging off
2: Lower your heels away from your body and hold this stretch for 30 secs, repeat 5-times
Heel drop stretch
1: Stand on a step with your heels off the step
2: Lower heels while keeping knees straight, you may hold on to something for support
Foam-rolling calf/myofascial release
1: Sit on the floor and place the leg you want to stretch on the foam roller. Place the calf muscle directly over the foam roller and keep a slight bend in the leg.
2: Support yourself by placing your hands on the floor slightly behind you. Shift some of your weight from your resting leg to the leg you are stretching. You will be placing more weight on the leg that has the foam roller under it. Now roll yourself forward one or two inches so the foam roller gets closer to your knee.
3: Slowly move the foam roller back to the starting position. When you find a tight spot (area that is more tender) hold pressure for 30 seconds on the trigger point. You may also flex and extend the ankle while holding pressure on the trigger point. Repeat 5-6 time on each leg.
For more information about Achilles pain and treatment options contact your local foot and ankle expert.
DPM, MSHS, AACFAS
For more information, you may contact Dr. Isin Mustafa at Family Foot & Leg Center at (833) 366-8534.
Family Foot & Leg Center has 8 locations throughout Collier, Lee, & Charlotte Counties to quickly resolve all your foot and ankle problems.
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