Anyone who regularly participates in sports knows that injuries are always a risk. Running can be especially hard on the joints, since the legs and feet are continuously absorbing ground reaction forces from various types of terrain.
An injury to the Achilles tendon can be painful, taking you off the road and requiring an extended period of time for recovery. If you are a runner, you should take precautions to reduce your risk of injuries so you can enjoy running for years to come.
Your Achilles tendon connects your heel and your calf muscles, extending up the back of your lower leg. During running, ground reaction forces can be up to triple your body weight, repeated every time your heel strikes. Ground reaction forces are even greater when running uphill or over uneven terrain.
The number of Achilles tendon injuries in runners is estimated to be between five and 12 percent, with men reporting more injuries than women. Repetitive overuse is the primary cause, but other factors such as deficient gait mechanics can contribute to the problem.
Failure to gradually build up your speed and distance is frequently the cause of running injuries. Sporadic training with long periods between runs can also be a factor. Consistent training that builds intensity and duration over time can dramatically reduce your risk of Achilles injuries.
Other factors that increase injury risk include;
- Advanced age
- Prior Achilles tendon injury
- Stiff ankles with limited range of motion
- Under-conditioned calf muscles
- Improper footwear
- Flat feet or high arches
- Running on hard terrain
- Poor running gait mechanics
The sooner you identify and treat an Achilles tendon injury, the more likely you are to completely recover without long-term complications.
- Warm sensation or red skin in the Achilles tendon area
- Stiffness or pain at the onset of running
- Decreased ankle mobility
- Pain that increases when running uphill
- Scar tissue that appears as a visible lump
Any of these symptoms can prevent you from walking, running, or conducting normal daily activities. Never ignore pain that arises after you’ve gone for a run. Injuries do not heal themselves if you continue to do the activity that caused them.
If you have Achilles pain, you should immediately make an appointment with a tendon specialist or qualified sports medicine provider. They can diagnose the type and severity of your injury and prescribe a treatment plan to help you recover as quickly as possible. While being treated, you should take a break from running. If you want to maintain your aerobic capacity, swimming laps provides a good alternative to running, unloading your Achilles tendon so it can heal properly.