3 Things Athletes Should Know About Their Achilles Tendon

Athleticism is generally seen as healthy. Training improves your cardiovascular health, your overall strength, and often helps you maintain a good range of motion and level of flexibility. But, the more you practice and train, the greater risk of at least one injury. Achilles tendon ruptures are more common among athletes than in the greater population. 

At Downtown Pain Management, Dr. Ron Ben-Meir sees a substantial number of patients who have sustained injuries playing sports. Those with Achilles tendon injuries often have a long road to recovery. In this post, we examine three important facts about your Achilles tendon, so that you can protect it while still enjoying an active lifestyle. 

1. Your Achilles tendon works hard all the time

Your Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in your body. It connects the gastrocnemius muscles, which are the big muscles in your calves, and the soleus muscles, which are smaller muscles on the outsides of your calves, to your heels. Your Achilles tendon works every time you flex your foot or point your toes, it allows you to jump, run, and stand on your tiptoes.

Each step you take involves your Achilles tendon, so as you can imagine, it gets a lot of use, especially if you’re an athlete. Achilles tendon injuries are often overuse injuries, where the tendon begins to fray and tear from day-to-day use, particularly among runners. 

Athletes who play sports that require lots of running, jumping, and fast pivots, like soccer or basketball, are at a greater risk of an Achilles tendon rupture. A rupture is where the tendon tears completely apart. Both overuse injuries and ruptures are very painful, but a rupture usually happens suddenly, whereas overuse injuries build up over time. 

2. Lots of factors contribute to Achilles tendon injury risk

As we noted above, the sport or activity you participate in can make a difference when it comes to your risk of injuring your Achilles tendon. So can your age, what you do when you’re not participating in your favorite sport or activity, how much and how hard you train, the strength and flexibility of your calf muscles, and even how your foot moves as you walk.

If you’re a so-called “weekend warrior” and mostly just train and play on the weekends, you have a greater risk of injuring your Achilles tendon. If you’re older, your tendon is more likely to tear, and if your calves are either weak or tight, it can contribute to an Achilles tendon injury. Big, sudden changes to your training schedule can also cause Achilles tendon issues. If your foot rolls inward when you walk, you overpronate, and over-pronation is associated with Achilles tendon injuries.

Some of these factors you can control, others you can’t. Try to train consistently, and ramp up your activity level slowly. Pay attention to keeping your calves strong, and focus on flexibility. Make sure that you’re wearing the proper footwear for your activity and if you have any gait issues, see a professional to be fitted for the right shoes. 

3. Achilles tendon injuries take a long time to heal

One of the hardest things about an Achilles tendon injury for athletes is that it can take months for it to heal enough for you to get back to your regular activities. It can put you out of play for an entire season. 

Returning to play too soon puts you at risk for re-injury, too, so it’s important to follow Dr. Ben-Meir’s instructions and only return to play when you’re fully healed. Your recovery time depends on your specific injury, whether or not you have surgery, and your overall health, among other things. 

If you have an Achilles tendon injury, or you suspect you may have an increased risk, schedule an appointment with Dr. Ben-Meir to discuss your situation. 

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