The Achilles tendon is one of the longer tendons in the body, and it attaches your calf muscle to your heel bone. You use this tendon to jump, walk, run and stand on the balls of your feet.
Because of that, the Achilles tendon takes a beating. Problems can range from inflammation to complete roll-up ruptures, but Achilles injuries usually involve minor tears. There are ways to prevent and heal them, so you can keep yourself in the gym and on your feet.
•“The Achilles tendon is actually a pair of tendons that connect the gastrocnemius (calf muscle) and the soleus (the muscle located directly below the gastrocnemius) to the calcaneous (heel bone),” says Jeff Bauer, Ph.D., associate professor of biomechanics at the State University of New York College at Cortland.
• Excessive exercise or walking is a common cause of Achilles tendonitis. “Middle- and long-distance running and jumping sports like basketball and volleyball can increase your odds of Achilles injuries, says Bauer. In general, any repeated activity that strains the Achilles tendon can contribute to injuries.
• Symptom may include pain and stiffness in the back of the lower leg. “When the tendon tears, the gastrocnemius and soleus ball up,” he says.
Ask the Expert
How can an active woman prevent strains?
“Almost no one takes the time to stretch their Achilles, but it’s necessary,” says Bauer. Try his recommended move: Sit and extend your legs, and point and flex your toes. Next, roll your feet in circular motions. “Also, stay away from high heels!” Bauer warns. In other words, heels increase strain on your Achilles tendon. Bauer suggests sticking to a height of two inches or less.
What is the best way to heal the injury.
“Rest. Without it, the problems can become chronic,” Bauer says. “Also, ice inflammation, and follow with light heat, elevation and an elastic wrap. “To speed recovery. Bauer suggests gentle stretching and low-heeled shoes.
30 seconds per leg
Target Muscles: Achilles tendon (gastrocnemius, soleus)
Setup: Stand on a step with your left foot and the ball of your right foot, hands on your hips. Bend your left knee.
Action: Lower your right heel until you feel tension in your calf and hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.