How to avoid Achilles tendinitis

Age, gender, pre-existing medical conditions and your footwear can all make you more susceptible to this troublesome injury


by Trail Running |

Your Achilles tendons are notoriously hard workers that keep your trail running legs functioning optimally from behind the scenes. These are large tendons that connect your two major calf muscles – the soleus and the gastrocnemius – to the backs of your heel bones.

Normally, your Achilles tendons perform their essential tasks without you noticing their presence at all. However, if you place them under prolonged stress, they may be forced to work overtime and tighten up to compensate. This tightening can cause inflammation and irritation, creating a condition we know as Achilles tendinitis.

Once you’ve developed this condition, it’s possible to address the symptoms and give your tendons a chance to heal. However, they will form a layer of scar tissue far less flexible than they are if you continue to overwork them. Eventually, this scar tissue can cause the tendons to rupture or tear, which can cause a host of problems that are significantly more challenging to treat.

Risk factors for developing tendinitis

There are a few risk factors that could predispose you to developing Achilles tendinitis, or raise your chances of suffering from this painful condition during the course of your life. They are:

■ Your gender: Men are more likely to suffer from it than women.

■ Your age: The prevalence of Achilles tendinitis is known to rise with age, so you are more likely to develop the condition as you grow older.

■ Physical foot deformities and issues: Naturally flat foot arches, tight calf muscles and being obese or overweight can strain your Achilles tendons.

■ Your training habits: Using worn out running shoes while trail running can heighten your risk of developing tendinitis. You’re also more likely to experience tendon pain in colder weather or while running on steep, hilly terrain.

■ Pre-existing medical conditions: People who suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) and psoriasis (an inflammatory skin condition) are at higher risk of developing the condition.

■ The medications you take: Some antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones have been linked to higher incidences of Achilles tendinitis.

The nine telltale symptoms of Achilles tendinitis

Knowing how to spot the symptoms is the key to treating the condition proactively and effectively. The nine most common signs are:

1Dull or sharp pain that occurs anywhere along the backs of your Achilles tendons, but close to your heels in particular.

2 Pain at the backs of your heels that’s typically worse in the mornings or after periods of rest.

3 Limited flexibility of your ankles due to swelling or discomfort.

4 Stiff ankles that make walking difficult.

5 Visible redness and a sensation of burning in the Achilles tendon area.

6 Nodules (lumpy formations of scar tissue) that you can feel along the tendons.

7A distinct cracking sound that occurs when you move your ankle. The scar tissue rubbing against your tendon can be the cause for this.

8 The presence of a Haglund’s deformity, also known as a ‘bump pump’. This is an irregular, bony formation that occurs at the back of the heel.

9 Reduced strength in your lower legs and ankles.

What happens if it goes untreated?

If you don’t treat your Achilles tendinitis, you risk developing Achilles tendinosis later down the line. This is a chronic inflammatory condition that can eventually result in degenerative tears of the tendons that show up as lumps in those areas.

If you have Achilles tendinitis and feel a lump on your tendon, consult a medical professional for advice as soon as you can.

How to prevent Achilles tendinitis

As the adage goes, prevention is always the best medicine. There are many precautions you can take to protect your tendons and avoid developing this painful inflammatory condition.

You can help to prevent it by:

■ Always taking the time to warm up and cool down properly before and after exercising, trail running, or any sporting activity.

■ Maintaining a healthy body weight. Being overweight can place extra strain on your Achilles tendons, which could increase your risk of developing tendinitis.

■ Adopting a healthy diet. Make sure that your diet keeps your body weight at a stable and appropriate level for your age, height and gender. You should also eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean protein and complex carbohydrates to ensure that you are getting enough calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.

■ Avoiding increasing the duration, frequency or intensity of your exercise sessions too abruptly or drastically.

■ Performing plyometric drills. Plyometric exercises like skipping, jumping and hopping all help to strengthen and tone your lower leg muscles, ligaments and tendons, and your ankle joints.

■ Ensuring that you invest in good-quality, supportive footwear that’s designed for trail running or any other sport you regularly engage in. Your shoes should ideally be professionally fitted to provide you with an optimal level of support.

■ Giving yourself time to rest. You can avoid overtraining and burnout by allocating one or two days of rest every week. You should also take a few weeks off from your sports of choice every year to give your body a chance to heal itself properly.

■ Acting straight away if you spot any signs of the condition. If you have any discomfort or unusual sensations in your Achilles tendons, take a break from exercise and consult your general practitioner or podiatrist immediately!

Healthy habits help bulletproof your body

Achilles tendinitis can be a painful and debilitating condition that requires specialised and potentially invasive treatments. However, there are luckily many ways to prevent the condition and address its symptoms before they can progress.

You can empower yourself and continue to enjoy your favourite trail running activities by adopting daily habits that prevent the development of Achilles tendinitis.

In brief, if you can stay healthy, give your body time to rest, and make sure you warm up and cool down before and after exercise, you will already be well on your way towards keeping tendinitis at bay.

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