Achilles Problems – Causes, Symptoms and Recovery

Jennifer Symeachilles, running

achilles problems for runners

Your Achilles Heel

I’ve written before about running specific issues, but this time I want to look at one common condition in particular.
Achilles problems are one of the most common running related issues I see in the clinic. Of course it isn’t just runners, but due to the impact from running, they are the ones that most often have issues in this area.

Generally speaking, most people don’t pay too much attention to their Achilles. It’s just that weird, soft yet bony like structure at the back of their ankle. They know about it from school and Greek Myths, but that’s about it. Until it goes wrong that is.

The Achilles, and by extension the calf muscles, have a hugely important role in our movement, especially in running where they can absorb up to 3 times your body weight on landing, and even more than that on the push-off phase of the stride. So, they are doing a big job on every step.

Unfortunately, the Achilles is also prone to overuse and injury, especially if there is already an underlying weakness in the area.
Tendon injuries are tricky things to deal with as they have a lower blood supply than muscles, so take a longer time to recover and heal. Therefore it is really important to tackle possible problems as early as possible, and try to avoid them recurring.

How Do You Know You Have Achilles Issues?

The symptoms of Achilles tendinopathy are –

  • Initially, a stiff feeling in the tendon and ankle.
  • Sharp pain close to the heel
  • Pain on the actual tendon
  • Some swelling near the heel with possible redness
  • Pinching the Achilles is sore
  • Pain during and after running
  • If it’s a long term, chronic situation there may be thickening of the tendon
achilles injury

What Causes It?

Sometimes an underlying issue is to blame, such as very tight or weak calves. Or it can come from higher up the body, hamstrings, glutes, even your back. This is known as the posterior chain, so any weakness in the ‘chain’ will add to potential strain on the Achilles. (One thing to remember, is that the body is all connected, so pain in one part can easily be caused by an issue in a different area).
If you only ever run on pavements, that can cause a problem as the loads experienced by the legs are higher than if you run on softer ground. So it’s worth mixing up your running surfaces.
Also take a look at your shoes, are they supportive, worn out?
If you have any body issues such as over pronation, or leg length differences then these can also play a part.

What Can You Do About Achilles Pain?

This is one issue you can’t ‘run through’. Achilles problems need rest, no or reduced activity for a few weeks, and possibly strapping and ice.
You definitely need some massage of the leg and indeed the whole posterior chain. You will require stretches to ease the tight areas, and also strengthening to work on weak area.
Also reviewing your shoes and running style may be required. I follow a style of running called Chi Running, which is a very light footed, injury avoiding technique, which is worth looking at if you are prone to calf or shin issues. There are lots of videos on YouTube and also a book.

How do You Avoid Achilles Problems?

If you act at the first signs of stiffness, and do stretching and mobilizing of the legs and ankle, get a massage to help ease tight areas in the back of the body, then you can prevent the early signs developing into anything more serious.

 leg massage for achilles issues

Keeping the calf strong and supple is key to preventing Achilles problems in the future or recurring. Work on the whole leg (including glutes) not just the calf. You can download a PDF of advice and rehab in the box below.

If you are in Glenrothes, Dunfermline or Edinburgh get in touch to book your sports massage appointment, or for more information.