Achilles tendon injury

Originally Published: May 16, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 11, 2013
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Dear Alice,

Two months ago, I went out jogging and injured my Achilles tendon. I was told that I had stressed the muscle and was told to stay off of it. At this point, the pain is gone and I'd like to start exercising again. Do you have suggestions as to what would be low stress on that part of my foot? Do you have exercise recommendations to stretch it out beforehand? Finally, when I get home and feel sensitivity in the region, what can I do to alleviate potential problems?

Dear Reader,

The Achilles tendon attaches to the calf muscle and to the heel bone. The calf muscles and the muscles along the shin are needed to protect against shock in high-impact exercises. This muscle group is very strong and is used constantly. Because of this, your Achilles tendon is put under a lot of pressure. The Achilles tendon handles forces that range from two to three times the body weight in walking, to four to six times the body weight in running and jumping. When it is overused, or if you continue to use it when it is injured, inflammation of the Achilles tendon could lead to local degeneration and recurrent injury, which may result in a partial, or even a complete, rupture. It was very wise of you to take a break before gradually resuming exercise.

As you get back into an exercise routine, make sure that you follow up with your health care provider and/or a physical therapist to be certain that you are not doing any more damage to your Achilles tendon. If you are a Columbia Student on the Morningside campus, you can call 212-854-2284 or log into Open Communicator to schedule an appointment. For students on the Medical Center campus, contact the Student Health Service by calling 212-305-3400.

Stretching and strengthening exercises can certainly play a role in taking care of your body. Remember that all stretching should be slow and static and that you should listen to your body — feel your muscles stretching, but stop if you feel pain. Specific to the Achilles tendon and surrounding muscles, consider the following:  

Stretch #1 — Calf Stretch

  1. Stand about a foot from a wall, extend one leg behind you, keeping both feet flat on the floor, toes pointed straight ahead, and your rear knee straight and your front knee bent.
  2. Move your hips forward, keeping your lower back flat.
  3. Lean into the wall until you feel tension in the calf muscle of the extended leg.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds, then stretch the other leg.
  5. Repeat at least two more times.

Stretch #2 — Calf Stretch

  1. Stand arm's-length distance from a wall (or tree, or lamppost — whatever is handy and gives you support).
  2. Put your hands on the wall, keep your back and your legs straight, and make sure your heels are flat on the floor.
  3. Bend your arms and lean forward, trying to touch your chest to the wall.
  4. Feel the stretch in your calf muscles.
  5. Hold it for a few seconds.
  6. Relax and repeat at least two more times.

Stretch #3 — Achilles Tendon Stretch

  1. Stand with one leg in front of you, slightly bent, and the other leg extended back.
  2. Lower your hips downward as you slightly bend the knee of the extended leg.
  3. Keep both heels flat on the floor and toes straight ahead.
  4. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, and then stretch the other leg.
  5. Repeat at least two more times.
    Note: This Achilles tendon stretch requires only a slight feeling of tension at the back of your ankle. Also, be sure that you do not bounce, and that you stretch gently and completely.

Besides jogging and running, the Achilles tendon can be injured from any activity that has an impact component. To help prevent injury to the Achilles tendon, consider exercises that put less stress on the Achilles tendon, such as bike riding and swimming. Also, abnormal pronation and muscle imbalances can be a problem for a recurring inflammation of the Achilles tendon. If you decide to get back into running, you need to have a physical therapist check out your running shoes to make sure they are not causing extra stress on your Achilles tendon and calf muscles. Be sure that you always wear running shoes that are not worn out, and try to avoid uneven or hard running surfaces. You may want to run on soft surfaces, such as running tracks, or soft trails without holes or ditches.

A reference to mythology seems unavoidable — stretch and allow your body to heal so your tendon doesn't become your Achilles heel. 

Alice