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5 Common Reasons for Achilles Tendon Injuries

You may have heard of an Achilles heel — a term for having a vulnerability.

One vulnerability athletes, especially runners, have is a possible injury to their Achilles tendon. It’s the cord-like structure you can feel just above your heel bone. It's on the backside of your ankle.

Your Achilles tendon connects two calf muscles (outer gastrocnemius and underlying soleus) to your heel bone (calcaneus). These muscles provide the primary push-off strength for walking and running. They also help support us when we’re standing upright.

Many of us have felt aching and soreness in our Achilles tendons after a good run. Most of the time, the pain goes away. We can return to our regular workout routine without missing a beat.

However, for an unfortunate few, the pain lingers. Achilles tendon disorders can become a serious problem.

Running Injuries

About 11 percent of all running injuries are related to the Achilles tendon. The most common disorder is Achilles tendonitis or swelling of the tendon.

The main complaints of Achilles disorders are:

  • Stiffness.
  • Aching in the region of the tendon.
  • Swelling accompanied by tightness when stretching their calf muscles.

In more chronic or long-term cases, a degeneration or loss of function of the tendon can occur. This can ultimately lead to a calcium buildup within the tendon itself. Our goal is to prevent these chronic changes from ever developing.

Achilles tendon disorders are often a challenge to treat. They can take much longer to resolve than initially anticipated.

Achilles tendonitis is unique. It's one of the few diagnoses where we recommend the runner stop running. The amount of rest time will depend on the severity of the injury. The rest can help prevent the development of chronic or long-term changes within the tendon.

A focused two-phase approach is designed to treat the symptoms, as well as fix the underlying problem. This is typically the most successful treatment method.

This two-phase approach begins with an acute phase and ends with a preventative phase.

  • The acute, or short-term phase, is designed to reduce swelling. It also gives the tendon a chance to repair itself. This phase often includes rest from activities that cause pain and aggravation. There may also be a break in physical therapy. In more severe cases, the health care provider may recommend the patient wear a removable short leg cast. All this allows the tendon to completely rest.
  • The preventative, or long-term phase, is based on correcting the underlying tendon problem. The solution may be as simple as devising a better training regimen or identifying a more appropriate shoe or orthotic. For more involved cases, surgical debridement of the tendon (removing damaged tissue) may be required. Or a health care provider may need to remove a corresponding bone spur.

In an Achilles tendon injury, it’s always recommended to take a break from running. This gives the tendon a chance to recover. If you don’t give the tendon time to heal, there is an increased risk of developing chronic changes. These changes are irreversible — the become a true Achilles heel for a runner.

Fortunately, almost all patients respond well to conservative treatment. Runners can make it back out on the trails without any limitations.


For more information about running/walking injuries or to schedule a free injury evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Health Hotline™ at 414-219-7776 or toll free at 800-219-7776.

Meet the Author

Marissa Strehlow, MS, LAT, is an athletic trainer at Aurora Sports Health in Mequon and is the athletic trainer for Nicolet High School.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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