It may seem strange that the largest and strongest tendon in your body—your Achilles—can be associated with weakness or vulnerability, but that is the case. According to Greek legend, the great fighter was killed with an arrow in his only weak spot—his heel. If you have ever ruptured that tendon, it might have felt like an arrow in your heel! However, Achilles tendinitis is a different condition, and the name is a bit misleading.
Achilles Tendinitis or Tendinosis
For years, the term tendinitis was used for a variety of problems with the heel cord—not just inflammation (as implied by the suffix “itis”). However, if the tendon does become inflamed, it may only need to be treated by anti-inflammatory medicine and rest.
Many tendon problems are more long term, starting out slowly and getting progressively worse. The fibers of this connector between your calf muscles and heel bone gradually begin to deteriorate and tiny tears form in the structure that are quite painful. The correct term for this breakdown would be Achilles tendinosis, since there is usually no inflammation.
Preventing Achilles Tendinitis
You really don’t want painful, damaged tendons to happen to you, so why not stop it from happening in the first place? There are many things you can do to prevent this type of injury. Once you know how it happens, you can avoid those situations and lessen your risk.
Achilles tendinitis is considered an overuse injury. That means that you are suddenly asking your body to do something it is not used to doing, and though it tries, it cannot do so without harm.
Say you suddenly decide to start running. You go out and do a couple of miles every day, and after a few days you wake up with pain at the back of your ankle. After a half hour of moving about, the pain disappears, so you don’t think about it anymore and go running. The next day it happens again, and the next. All that running stresses the unconditioned tendon more than it can handle. It doesn’t have a period of rest that allows the tendon to rebuild itself and heal.
The solution is obvious: start slowly, and work on conditioning your muscles and tendons before you increase levels of intensity or distance. There are other things you can do as well, such as checking that your shoes fit and support your foot properly, making sure you warm up and do some dynamic stretches before your workout, and taking a break from running (try swimming or biking a couple of days instead). These preventive tactics apply to others with a risk of tendon problems as well, such as dancers or workers who are on their feet a lot.