It’s the midst of the off-season and either you’re in hibernation or you’re the type of person that keeps your competitive flame stoked. Regardless, keeping the body injury-free or at the very least mitigating injury is a goal we all have. Now injuries can span the spectrum, but what is that one “Achilles heel”, what can sideline the best of the best? That would be the Achilles tendon. Whether you’re a Greek god or new to triathlons, an injured Achilles tendon can side line your training, an event, and in some cases your season.
So what and where is the Achilles tendon? It is a thick, rope like tendon about 4 to 6 inches long linking your calf to the tendon’s insertion points at the heel bone. Typically an injury will occur where the tendon and the muscle meet, where the calf muscles form a “V” on the back of the leg. The pain can be mild to debilitating. The most serious Achilles tendon injury is to the tendon itself which can cause inflammation of the tendon, called tendinitis, and chronic inflammation with fluid build-up, called tendinosis.
How do you prevent an injury to your Achilles tendon, you ask? Well such as is the weather here in Northeast Ohio, there are no guarantees. But the best way to prevent Achilles tendon injuries in the first place is to develop flexible and stronger legs. A fundamental lack of flexibility, especially in your calf muscles, can be a root cause of Achilles tendon injuries so stretching is key.
Strengthen it; the impact of stress on the Achilles tendon is what can lead to injuries. To reduce the stress placed on the tendon, strengthen the muscles supporting the Achilles tendon so those muscles can endure the brunt of the stress. These movements can help strengthen those muscles: calf raises, plyometric squats, multidirectional lunges and squat thrusts just to name a few.
So what do you do if you get injured? First thing is to get professional assistance; self diagnosis can lead to further damage. But until you can get checked out you can try the following:
- Ice it; applying ice to the area for 15 minutes 4-6 times a day can help reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Reduce intensity, with Achilles tendon injuries, in general, swimming is fine and biking can work, but only if it’s pain-free. Just be sure to avoid running and other high impact movements.
- Stretch it, but if pain is present stop immediately and revert back to icing and get to your doctor. Once you can stretch without pain, try the classic runner’s stretch with your hands against a wall.
Again if there are doubts about an injury or your training, seek out a trainer or your doctor for further advice. Be sure you are aware of the extent of any injury and be proactive with proper stretching and training regiments. Good luck and stay healthy!