As marathon, half marathon, and 5K season ramps up, it is crucial to address your injury risk early to avoid becoming a statistic. If you are running a lot of hills, you are prone to an Achilles heel problem.
The Achilles is a large tendon connecting the calf muscles to your foot and is responsible for the ‘push off’ as your foot leaves the ground. Overuse of the Achilles can lead to Achilles tendinosis, one of the most common running injuries. Achilles tendinosis is characterized by irritation and microtrauma of the tendon and can have several risk factors. The biggest modifiable risk factors include: poor calf muscle strength, excessive sprint and hill work, and increasing your weekly mileage too quickly. Unfortunately, being male and older are risk factors, though there is not much you can do about those!
Symptoms of Achilles tendinosis include pain between your calf muscle and your heel that is worse with raising on your toes, along with stiffness and swelling. Sometimes, you can have a swollen, tender bump over the tendon or may feel creaking in the back of the ankle.
How to Prevent Achilles Problems:
First, make sure to correct any training errors. Do not increase your weekly mileage by more than 30 percent over any 2-week period, slowly add hill work, and properly ramp up to sprint work. Hills and sprints should be spaced out in your training cycle, and as always, make sure to emphasize proper rest and recovery. Rest is a part of training, not a loss of training!
Second, perform single leg heel drops! This exercise addresses calf strength and improves tendon structure. Start on a step with the balls of your feet on the step. Use both feet to raise onto your toes, take one foot off, and SLOWLY lower yourself with one foot until your heel is below your toes off the step and you feel a stretch. Slow is the key word here. Work up to 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg, with the knee straight and with the knee bent.
Should you develop Achilles tendinosis despite your best efforts, prioritize getting to a sports medicine physical therapist quickly! Your therapist will provide an evaluation to determine your specific contributing factors and work with you to develop a plan to get you back running.
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