The Achilles tendon, located on the leg, attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Achilles tendonitis is a repetitive strain (overuse) injury involving lower leg muscles and tendons at the point where they attach to the bone, resulting in pain at the back of the ankle. Chronic overuse can lead to small tears within the tendon causing long-term weakening, making the tendon susceptible to rupture, which could result in a need for surgery.
Lack of flexibility and overpronation are two of the most common causes of Achilles tendonitis. Other risk factors and causes include:
Poor conditioning: Exercising beyond your conditioning is one of the most common and direct routes to injury. “Jumping right in” puts you at risk for developing Achilles tendonitis. Whether you are a somewhat “out of shape” weekend warrior participating in activities that involve sudden stops and starts and repetitive jumping (e.g., basketball, tennis, dancing) or a well-intentioned beginner who is starting a new fitness program it’s likely that your muscles and tendons have little flexibility because of inactivity. Stretching properly, starting slowly, and increasing gradually will be critical if you want to avoid Achilles tendonitis.
Overuse: Achilles tendonitis may occur as a result of overuse or training too much as well.
Stressful surfaces: Participating in repetitive motion activities, such as running, playing basket ball or tennis that are done on hard surfaces (especially pavement, cement or hills) can increase your chances for developing Achilles tendonitis.
High-heels: Women who wear high-heeled shoes often and switch to sneakers for exercise also can develop Achilles tendonitis. The Achilles tendon and lower leg muscles gradually adapt to a shortened position because the shoes prevent the heel from stretching all the way to the ground. When this occurs, wearing sneakers or flat shoes forces the Achilles tendon to stretch further than it is accustomed to, causing inflammation. If high heels are worn everyday, stretching should be done every morning and night to keep the Achilles tendon lengthened. As with all injuries, prevention is your best defense especially with injuries that are as painful and inconvenient as Achilles tendonitis. Prevention options include:
Stretching: To help maintain flexibility in the ankle joint, begin each day with a series of stretches and be certain to stretch prior to, and after, any exercise or excessive physical activity. Appropriate exercise routines: Be smart about your exercise choices. Avoid activities held under less than ideal conditions, warm up before any exercise, including a friendly pick-up game and don’t overdue it. Proper footwear: Low-heeled shoes with good arch support and shock absorption are best for the health of your foot. Look into heel wedges and other shoe inserts to make sure that your everyday foot mechanics are operating under ideal conditions.