Achilles tendinitis? !?!! Say what?!!
I think one of the biggest problems with the medical community, is patients becoming patients again. Many people walk out of a doctors office knowing that have been given a label for “something” that isn’t let them feel their best, but also don’t understand why they have that “something.” A typical scenario is to just receive a Band-Aid for pain and discomfort without knowing what can done to prevent a reoccurrence. Sometimes I think a simpler explanation of how our body works in words we can all understand can help prevent a lot of the pain and discomfort that people feel.
The pain from Achilles tendinitis is one of those things that people could do a better job avoiding if they knew a little more about how their body worked. Before we make biomechanics simple, realize that when you see the root word “-itis” attached to something, it means that a part of you is doing too much work. In the medical community “-it is” is attached to a body part or region to describe hat is happening and where. For our purposes today, I am writing about the Achilles Tendon.
Before we go much further, we need to understand a little bit about skeletal muscle and connective tissue. Of course, our skeleton is made of bones. The places on our body where bones meet that allow movement are called joints. These joints are moved when our brain tells our muscles to contract (get shorter!) Muscles don’t attach directly to bone, they first attach to a tendon which connects to a bone. The biggest difference between the muscle and the tendon is that the tendon is much stiffer, while the muscle is more like a rubber band and can stretched out.
The Achilles tendon is the part of the lower leg that attaches your foot to calf muscles. It will get irritated and the “-itis'” will develop because the muscles in that area stop stretching like they should. It really is that easy. The obvious question should be, “Why?” Well, that may be easily solved by understanding what those muscles do.
In most anatomy textbooks you will learn that the calf muscles will make you stand on your toes. So, each time you stand on your toes, you your calf muscles are getting have contract and tighten up. Now, that’s ok. They are supposed to do that. Muscles are supposed to get short to generate force. The problem occurs when the muscle doesn’t return to it’s full length. Again, the question should be, “Why?”
Turning our attention back to the muscles of our lower leg, we need to understand that our choice of footwear, or a sudden increase in activity, or even a previous injury can all influence the relative tightness in your calf muscles.
There is a secret that most anatomy textbooks leave out, the calf muscles do more than just make you stand on your toes. Those muscles have an even more important job in that they make sure we don’t fall over when we walk. As our foot hits the ground while we walk, it is the job of our the muscles of the lower leg to slow down our knee. The Achilles tendon connects the gastrocnemious and soleus to the bottom of the foot. If those two muscles have become overworked, then that band of connective tissue gets taxed in a way that it shouldn’t.
This is referred to as Achilles tendinitis, but Achilles is really not much than the poor sucker in the middle who is trying to pick up the slack for another part who isn’t doing their job.
So, what can you do?
Lets recap. We have just made a case to pass the pains in our Achilles to the muscles above it. We also just said that muscles above, will allow us to stand on our toes. This only happens when we shorten the muscle. A short muscle is a muscle in a tightened position. If this muscle stays in a tightened position too long, it wont lengthen real well. We need to be able to lengthen to reduce the work of the tendon, which isn’t flexible.
With all that being said, I offer two pieces of suggestion. Number one, foam roll and stretch your calf muscles. The foam roll will soften up the tissue, to allow us try and regain the length of the muscle when we stretch. The number two thing, is ditch the shoes you have with a raised heel. Again, remember the function of those muscles. The more you stand in shoes, with a heel, the more you are asking of your lower leg muscles to work.