It is fairly common to see many sportspersons succumb to injuries because of the rigorous hours of training they put in, the constant pressure to stay in shape, and pushing themselves to the extreme. Most common than not you’ll find many athletes become a victim to a number of Achilles tendon injuries, especially runners, footballers, and tennis players.
What is Achilles tendon?
The bunch of fibrous tissues that connects the heel bone to the calf muscles is the Achilles tendon. It is the largest and strongest tendon in our bodies.
The flexing of the calf muscles makes the Achilles tendon pull on the heel enabling us to move, walk, run and jump. Though strong, the Achilles tendon is also vulnerable to injury. This is because of the constant high tension placed on the muscles and limited blood supply.
What causes Achilles tendon injuries?
While there’s no questioning the strength of the Achilles tendon, it is also very vulnerable to injuries especially when it comes to athletes. There are a number of common injuries that can happen with Achilles tendon, let us take a look at how to identify their symptoms and causes.
#1. Achilles tendon tear:
These can be both large and small in size and can be identified by intense pain, swelling and trouble in movement. They can occur slowly over a long period of time or suddenly during activity due to overstretching.
A physical examination by your doctor will reveal if your lower leg has tenderness and swelling.
- Rest Your leg and avoid putting any pressure/weight on your leg
- Ice the injured area for about 20 minutes at a time.
- Use a pillow to raise your leg while sitting or lying down.
#2. Achilles tendon rupture:
It is just an extension of the tendon tear, wherein a complete rupture of the Achilles tendon happens possibly making a “pop” or “snap” sound. It is common during exercises that may pivot the foot suddenly, like while playing basketball. Rupture makes it difficult to walk because the foot is not able to bear the pressure put on by the body weight.
During the physical exam, your doctor may ask you to walk or run in order to look for problems leading to the injury. He/she can also do the calf squeeze test and in case the Achilles tendon is completely ruptured, your foot won’t move because your calf muscle isn’t connected to your foot.
- Practice stretching as recommended by your doctor or physiotherapist.
- Use an elastic bandage around your ankle and lower leg. It will help from further swelling.
#3. Achilles Tendonitis:
A very common sight in runners and tennis players, this is an acute inflammation of the Achilles tendon. It happens usually when not enough warm-up is done before indulging in athletic activity as tight calf muscles put more tension on the tendon. The primary symptom of Achilles tendonitis is a pain, usually burning pain that can escalate with more activity. The pain can be felt in a range of places along the leg including the bottom of the calves, the tendon or near the heel bone.
Along with physical examination, a thorough history is taken. While an X-ray may be performed to clearly spot any bony spurs, an MRI or ultrasound can tell how much the tendon has been affected.
- Complete rest along with oral medications as per the doctor’s instructions
- Heel cups can be used to keep the pressure off of your Achilles tendon while walking
- Shockwave, ultrasound therapy and physiotherapy massages can be done
- Surgery may be required in some cases if the conditions are severe
Prevention from Achilles tendon injuries:
It is definitely hard to anticipate and thus prevent an injury in the Achilles tendon. However, any issues in the positioning and motion of the leg or weakness of the calf muscles can escalate the vulnerability to a sports injury.
So, it’s imperative that the training program you choose does not put your body through additional exertion. It should also minimise any risks of a tendon injury. In saying that, even the fittest of athletes can suffer a major injury due to various reasons.
It is important that you follow a good stretching and warm-up routine along with your training program. This is in order to keep your calf muscles at ease. Regular therapeutic massages, not pushing your body over the extreme and limiting any sudden movements during your practice can prove to be good for you.