Whether it is stiffness at the start of your run or irritation afterwards, Achilles tendonitis flare-ups aren’t out of the ordinary. This is because this one tendon is responsible for connecting the gastrocnemius and soleus, or your two largest calf muscles, to the heel. When too much stress and load is placed on this thick band, usually from overuse, it becomes tight and inflamed. Neither of these things is ideal for running, but with the application of heat and ice, stretching, and rest, you may be able to reduce your pain.
Cause and Symptoms of Achilles Tendonitis.
Stiffness and inflammation of the Achilles tendon usually result in pain near your heel. This pain can be dull, like a mild ache or sharp. You might also notice that your heel and ankle are less flexible. A burning sensation may be felt when you try to stretch the area.
Achilles discomfort is usually a result of too much stress on the tendon. This can happen if your calf muscles are weak and transfer too much load when pushing off to your Achilles. Lack of flexibility and overtraining are other common causes.
How to Treat Achilles Tendonitis Pain from Running.
Treating an Achilles issue typically involves addressing both the current pain and the root of the problem.
To Ease Discomfort:
- • Take a break from running if necessary. If the pain is pronounced and doesn’t seem to taper off with time spent after a run, you may need to refrain from running for a bit. You can still maintain your cardio with other Achilles-friendly exercises, such as swimming or rowing.
- • Apply ice following a run. Icing for fifteen minutes multiple times throughout the day can reduce inflammation. Wrap a soft ice pack in a cloth and place it directly over the Achilles tendon.
- • Take anti-inflammatories as necessary. If you believe swelling and inflammation are the issues, medicines like ibuprofen may help in the short term.
- • Massage and stretch. You might want to warm the area first with water or a hot pack, then practice stretching and massaging the tendon and surrounding structures. Pressure massage is helpful, though you may need a professional’s help for this type of massage therapy.
- • Tape for support. Taping isn’t a long-term solution but can help relieve pain while you run and provide support. You can read this article to determine which type of taping technique is best for you.
To Solve the Root Problem:
- • Stretch and foam roll. Warming up your muscles with stretching before a run can help reduce calf tightness, a cause of Achilles pain. Foam rolling post-run can further loosen muscles and keep you flexible.
- • Try cross-training. There are two benefits to cross-training. The first is that it can help you maintain fitness if you need to reduce your running. The second is that it may help strengthen your leg muscles. Stronger calves and glutes can help lessen the load on your Achilles when running.
- • Check your technique and shoes. While your shoes may seem like an easy fix, they may not be the culprit. Still, you can try a larger heel drop or heel lifts to see if it helps with your tendonitis. Playing with your running form and foot strike usually is no longer advised. However, some experts cite an aggressive forefoot strike as a root cause of tendonitis.
- • Consider Physical Therapy. A physical therapist may be able to assess your situation and determine the cause of your Achilles pain. Then, they can offer you specific exercises or stretches to help prevent further issues. ‘Eccentric’ strengthening can be very beneficial for runners with chronic Achilles problems. This exercise involves applying tension to the muscles as they lengthen, usually by slowly lowering a weight. Performing heel drops on the edge of a step is an excellent example of an eccentric exercise.
What If My Achilles Tendonitis Pain Doesn’t Improve?
If your Achilles tendonitis pain does not get better, it may be time to see a doctor. They will often test your flexibility, feel the area to assess pain and swelling, and in rare cases, request imaging.
Thankfully, most Achilles tendonitis cases can be treated with the RICE method; rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Unfortunately, though, Achilles tendonitis can occasionally progress if not treated quickly and properly. A tear or rupture of the Achilles typically necessitates surgical intervention.
If you’d like to read and learn more around running with Achilles tendonitis, then take a look at the next article in this series about how to warm up your Achilles tendon before running.