The greatest warrior in the Trojan War, Achilles was dipped in the River Styx by his mother, becoming invulnerable, except where she held him – the feet. The Achilles heel became synonymous with any weak spot. Achilles also gave his name to the tendon connecting the heel and ankle. If you’ve ever experienced an Achilles tendon injury, you’ll know just how vulnerable you become.
Achilles tendon rupture
The Achilles tendon, the strongest and largest tendon in your body, attaches two muscles in your calf to the heel bone. Subject to several types of sports injuries, the rupture of the Achilles tendon often occurs during movements with great amounts of force, such as jumps and cuts, common in basketball, for example.
A rupture is a sudden and catastrophic injury, often accompanied by a loud popping sound. However, the rupture may follow a series of more minor injuries that may go undetected. These can combine to weaken the tendon, so the rupture injury may occur under conditions it would normally handle.
Tendon injuries and aging
All tendons in your body suffer the effects of time, becoming less flexible and more fragile as you get older. This increases the chance of both minor injuries and damage to the Achilles tendon, of which you may not be aware, or a complete rupture due to excessive strain.
Because micro-injuries to the tendon aren’t apparent when they’re occurring, preventive measures against tendon rupture can never start too soon. Prevention is also much easier than dealing with the effects of any Achilles tendon problem.
This is particularly true of a rupture, which requires surgery to repair. Tendinitis of the Achilles tendon is also difficult to treat, since complete rest isn’t practical for most people.
Preventing Achilles tendon injuries
If you want to start an exercise regimen to help prevent damage to your Achilles tendon, you’ll be happy to know that effective stretching won’t add much time to your daily workout, and these routines aren’t strenuous or hard to accomplish. Stretching the muscles of the lower legs accomplishes two things that help your Achilles tendon.
- Stretching your calf muscles keep them loose and long, able to flex more easily as you’re playing your sport. When the calf muscles move more dynamically, the pulling load on your Achilles tendon reduces.
- Maintaining calf muscle exercises over time builds muscle strength, another key way to support the Achilles tendon and distribute force loads.
A common exercise type that helps most people stretch and work their calf muscles are calf raises. These are simple to do and come in two main forms, sitting and standing calf raises, each working different muscle sets that aid your Achilles tendon health.
Standing calf raises are as simple as raising yourself onto your toes from a normal standing position. Start modestly doing about 15 or 20 repetitions, 3 times daily. Raises should be slow and held for a two-count before slowly descending.
You can increase the intensity of calf raises by adding dumbbells once free raises are comfortable. Doing standing raises on a step so that you can lower your heels below the height of your toes also extends the extension of the calf stretch.
Sitting calf raises are similar, though you do these from a seated position with your feet starting flat on the floor. Pace and repetitions are similar, though sitting raises work different muscles. Since you’re sitting, adding dumbbells isn’t necessary.
Talk with your podiatrist at Complete Foot and Ankle, sports injury specialists in Garfield and Ridgewood, New Jersey, about additional preventive measures you can take to ensure your Achilles tendons stay healthy and well-supported.