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Achilles Tendon Recovery

Take Care of Your Achilles Tendons

It was the fate­ful weak spot of an otherwise-invulnerable Hel­lenic war­rior. And it’s been sidelin­ing ath­letes, dancers, and plain ordi­nary peo­ple ever since.

The Achilles ten­don con­nects your calf to the back of your heel, trans­mit­ting the forces of run­ning, walk­ing, jump­ing, and point­ing your foot.

If you run, you’re vul­ner­a­ble to prob­lems of the Achilles ten­don, espe­cially if you’re over forty. But other ath­letes are at risk too. And even if you’re seden­tary you’re not immune. The ten­don can be weak­ened by under-use as much as by over-use.

The type of injury can vary: your Achilles ten­don (or the sheath around it) can be degen­er­ated, inflamed, or torn out­right. The injury loca­tion varies, too. It can occur in the mid-calf (where the ten­don arises from the gas­troc and soleus mus­cles), at the attach­ment to the heel bone, or at a vul­ner­a­ble zone just above the heel where the blood sup­ply is most limited.

If you have a com­plete tear of the Achilles ten­don, you’re in trou­ble. You’ll have a hard time walk­ing and you may even need surgery to reat­tach the two ends.

For­tu­nately, most Achilles injuries are less severe.

The com­mon Achilles prob­lems are pri­mar­ily due to degen­er­a­tion of the ten­don from overuse or mis­use. Add to the mix pos­si­ble inflam­ma­tion of the sheath around the ten­don, along with micro-tears in the ten­don itself, and you’ve char­ac­ter­ized the major­ity of Achilles ten­don problems.

Often these prob­lems are called Achilles ten­donitis.  But tech­ni­cally, since there’s rarely inflam­ma­tion involved, more pre­cise diag­nos­tic terms would be Achilles ten­dono­sis or Achilles tendinopa­thy.

Achilles “ten­donitis” treatment

Your ideal treat­ment plan requires four components:

1. Resolve inflam­ma­tion (if there is any)

Many overuse injuries don’t actu­ally involve an inflam­ma­tory process, but some­times the sheath around the Achilles ten­don can become inflamed. (The ten­don itself is a less likely site of inflammation.)

Ice is nice.

And there are those who swal­low anti-inflammatory pills like ibupro­fen, aspirin, or naproxen (NSAIDs).  A more benign “nutri­tional” alter­na­tive to NSAIDs that works for some peo­ple is the use of diges­tive enzymes.  Pro­te­olytic enzymes that break down pro­teins in your diet will also break down the inflam­ma­tory chem­i­cals in your swollen tissues.

Com­bine the pro­te­olytic enzymes with anti-inflammatory herbs such as cur­cumin, and you’ve got a potent all-natural treat­ment strat­egy. (Con­tact me for infor­ma­tion about the spe­cific prod­ucts I recommend.)

2. Blast your fibroblasts

Fibrob­lasts are the cells that man­u­fac­ture the struc­tural pro­tein of the ten­don – col­la­gen. When you’re injured, you need your fibrob­lasts to speed up their pro­duc­tion line.  The best way to do this is to mechan­i­cally stim­u­late them with man­ual ther­apy such as fric­tion mas­sage or myofas­cial therapy.

Gen­tle stretch­ing and eccen­tric strength­en­ing help too.   Here’s your basic eccen­tric strength­en­ing exercise:

Stand on both feet and rise up onto your toes. Then, lift your “good” foot off the ground and slowly lower your weight using the mus­cles of the injured side. Repeat up to 20 times.

CAUTION: The exer­cise as described may not be appro­pri­ate for every­one. If you have a seri­ous injury, it might be too chal­leng­ing. If the align­ment of your feet is off, you could also be doing more harm than good. And for some peo­ple, this exer­cise isn’t chal­leng­ing enough. Con­tact me for more infor­ma­tion about your spe­cific sit­u­a­tion.

3. Cor­rect struc­tural problems

  • Get the joints of your feet checked (by a doc­tor of chi­ro­prac­tic) to see if altered motion of the joints is adding to your problem.
  • You may also need shoe inserts: sim­ple ones such as a slight heel lift or lat­eral wedge, or more com­pli­cated ones like cus­tom foot orthotics.
  • Have the joints of your pelvis and low back checked for align­ment and joint play problems.
  • You may need to stretch your calves, ham­strings, outer thigh, or other tight zones.

4. Get fit!

Once you’ve bal­anced your struc­ture so that you’re not putting undue stress on the Achilles ten­don, it’s time for a grad­ual return to your nor­mal fit­ness routine.

Don’t let Achilles ten­don injuries pre­vent you from enjoy­ing a fit and active life. Insti­tute some sim­ple self-care mea­sures and get pro­fes­sional help too as needed.

 

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