Do you suffer from Achilles pain?
An aching in your heel that catches you every morning when you rise from bed? Or maybe yours is worse at the start and beginning of your run? Giving you just enough respite in the middle that you start thinking – maybe this achilles pain is getting better?
You’re not alone. Achilles pain is an all too common, frustrating and debilitating condition that affects many runners every day. It doesn’t discriminate. Whether you’re new to this running game building up your kilometres as part of a couch to 5K program or a seasoned veteran plugging away at 100 km weeks. Achilles pain from too much running can get anyone.
Achilles pain can be due to any of the following:
- Tight and weak calf muscles
- Increased twisting of the heel bone
- The wrong shoes (for your Achilles)
- And more
As your physiotherapist in Pascoe Vale, I’ve seen quite a few sore achilles tendons from my clients who are keen to keep running. Here are a few quick tips and tricks that you can do at home to help prevent achilles pain from occurring frequently. You’ll also be able to move more and improve your overall achilles tendon capacity in the long run.
First, here’s what happens when you run for too long and get Achilles pain.
Running is one of the most challenging exercises for your Achilles tendon and just a little too much is enough to trigger Achilles pain.
Most runners will say it’s not fair.
Running is supposed to be good for you! I’m trying my hardest here. I just want to run!
For some runners, developing Achilles pain is like the straw on the camel’s back. One extra run in a week, a faster training session, or overdoing your running distances just a smidge.
And then for others, it’s more complex.
Your Achilles tendon is the biggest and strongest tendon in your body. It has to do a heap of work (and usually loves the challenge). But like all of us, there’s some work we like more (as a physio, I like treating runners with Achilles tendon pain – jaw pain? Not so much). Your achilles tendon loves tensile pulling work but hates compressive or twisting work.
This is what gets many runners in trouble. If their shoes or foot structure leads their heel to twist and compresses their heel more then they’re more likely to get achilles pain.
Getting to the cause of your Achilles pain is important and why it’s something I work closely with my podiatry colleagues in Pascoe Vale who know more about shoes and foot function than any crew I’ve met.
Understanding just what is causing your Achilles pain is vital in getting a treatment plan in place that will fix your pain and get you back running the times, distances and events you love.
But unfortunately, life can get in the way. Some runners find it difficult to implement these strategies due to time constraints, their pain or simply forgetting.
Here are the mistakes which we’ve all made in the past
You might have heard about how to relieve your Achilles pain before but have been unable to make the changes needed. That’s normal! Many of us take a few cracks at getting these new habits and exercises down pat.
These are the main mistakes that runners have to overcome.
- Being unsure of what exercises will help
- Doing exercises or stretches that either don’t help or make your achilles pain worse
- No support and a lack of motivation
- It’s too sore!
But not to worry, we got you covered. Here are some simple strengthening exercises that are safe, and can be done at practically any time and anywhere.
Relieve Achilles pain with an isometric, straight-leg calf hover
The calf muscle is made up of a few different muscles which wrap down into the Achilles tendon.
Your gastrocnemius muscle is the outermost muscle that makes up the calf and has fibres extending deep into your Achilles tendon where it holds onto your heel bone.
When running your gastrocnemius provides the lift and spring to move you forward up onto your toes and the next stride.
If your gastrocnemius becomes tight, it’s a sign that it does not have the capacity (strength) to do what you need it to. This then can put more unwanted stress onto your Achilles tendon.
To begin the exercise start with the ball of your foot on a step and your heel hanging free. Ensure your knee is extended (locked back in a straight position). Hang your heel in space, not rising or lowering.
Ideally, you can do upwards of 30 seconds at a time where your Achilles tendon can feel some strain – but not pain.
If being on two feet is easy, switch to one at a time. Oh, and even if only one side of your body is sore, make sure you exercise the other one too. Cross-education is real and an important part of rehabilitation.
Do a bent knee calf hover exercise to help relieve Achilles pain
Next up, it’s the soleus muscles turn to work and build capacity where it connects to your Achilles tendon.
Your soleus is the hidden, deeper calf muscle and the powerhouse of your running. Up to 8 times your body weight gets powered forwards by the soleus and how it holds onto your Achilles tendon when running.
This exercise is a simple variation of the first straight knee isometric calf hover. It does require some quadricep strength to hold you in place as well.
Follow on from the first exercise here but drop your bottom down like you’re lowering into a squat. Your knee should be bent as low as you can, not necessarily to 90 degrees but the lower the better.
Hold this position for at least 30 seconds whilst maintaining your heel hanging in the air. Not rising, not lowering.
One foot at a time is the escalation of this exercise if you can handle both feet comfortably.
Glute bridge strength exercise for Achilles pain
If your bum (your glutes) aren’t strong enough you’ll lean when you run and this can twist your heel bone and stress your Achilles tendon. Your calf muscles will also have to work harder to pick up the slack as well.
So when your heel is sore, you need to get those glutes strong too.
To perform this exercise you need to lay flat on your back with your heels tucked up around 30-40 cm away from your bottom.
Next, you want to rise and lift your hips as high as you can get them without pushing down into the ground with your arms. This exercise is just your glutes lifting your hips, with no help from your arms or back. That would be cheating now… You don’t want to cheat your Achilles tendon, do you?
Aim to complete around 12 reps and feel some fatigue through your bum muscles. If it’s easy with both feet on the ground, try one at a time. You can also change this up to work lower down your glutes and into your hamstrings more by pressing your heel into the ground and raising your toes. You’ll need to have shoes on if you have insertional achilles tendon pain when you do that.
That’s it. There are 3 simple exercises you can do at home to relieve achilles pain from too much running.
Of course, there are plenty of other more specific and targeted things we can do as your physiotherapists in Pascoe Vale to help out further. If you have Achilles pain, start with these exercises and then make an appointment with our clinic to get you moving again.
Before you go
Achilles pain is one dreaded by all runners. It’s unpleasant and for some a daily, visceral reminder of how much we love running but how much we hate the idea of ageing out of being a runner.
If you’re struggling there are a couple of treatment modalities that are proven to help (as long as they are addressing your reasons why your achilles is painful). Shockwave therapy is one, and a podiatrist-prescribed orthotic for your running gait is another. Your might also find the best running shoes for achilles tendonitis is helpful for you.
About the author
Pascoe Vale’s physiotherapist Mouhamed Ziftawi doesn’t want you to be struggling alone with Achilles pain. If you want to get back to running comfortably start with these exercises and book a session to get your plan. If you’d like to learn a little more about Mouhamed check out his interview.