A blog by runners. For runners.

Achilles tendonitis in runners

By Meredith Franczyk, PT, MPT

Achilles tendonitis in runners

Achilles tendonitis is one of the most common running injuries.  It is estimated 50 percent of all runners will experience Achilles pain at some point – males more frequently than females.

The Achilles tendon is a thick band of tissue located along the back of the lower leg and connects the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the heel. The function of the Achilles tendon during running is to assist with push off.  Achilles tendonitis occurs when the demand of the tendon is greater than it can function.

The most common location for Achilles pain is above the heel. Achilles tendonitis is broken up into three grades:  Grade I and II (mild and moderate strains) are treated with conservative treatment, such as physical therapy. Grade III is a complete rupture, which is commonly described by a “pop” followed by severe pain. Typically there is an inability to bear weight through the injured leg and may require surgery.

Four common causes of Achilles tendonitis

  1. Overuse
  2. Increasing physical activity too quickly (Speed or hill training with running)
  3. Calf tightness and/or weakness
  4. Foot abnormalities (flat feet) or improper footwear (high heels)

Treatment for Achilles tendonitis

  • Rest from the activity causing pain
  • Stretch, stretch, stretch
  • Strengthen muscles of the posterior chain (muscles in the back of your legs: calves, hamstrings and gluts) especially eccentrically – the lowering aspect of the exercise such as during a calf raise
  • Ice (ice pack-10 minutes or ice massage 5 minutes) to the point of pain
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery for a full Achilles rupture

Common stretches and strengthening exercises

Calf stretch off the step

Calf stretch off step: Stand with balls of feet on a step, using a rail or wall to balance. Lower heels until a stretch is felt in the calves. Hold for a count of 30 seconds. Perform 1 set of 3

Runner stretch

Runner stretch. Stand facing a wall, step forward with foot of uninvolved leg keeping back leg straight with heel on the floor. Hold for a count of 30 seconds Perform 1 set of 3

Soleus stretch

Soleus stretch. Stand facing wall, step forward with foot of uninvolved leg keeping back knee slightly bent with heel of the floor.  Hold for a count of 30 seconds. Perform 1 set of 3

Seated calf stretch with a towel

Seated calf stretch with a towel. Place towel or strap around foot keeping knee straight and pull foot up.  Hold for a count of 30 seconds. Perform 1 set of 3

Sidestepping with a band

Sidestepping with a band. Loop elastic band around ankles, step sideways, keeping toes pointed straight ahead.  Take 10 steps to the right and back 10 steps. Perform 6 sets

Single leg heel raises

Single leg heel raise. Lift up on the ball of a foot and slowly return to the start position and repeat Perform 2-3 sets of 10

RELATED:  Yoga poses for runners

About Meredith Franczyk, PT, MPT
Meredith has over ten years of experience and is currently working in outpatient orthopedics at lakeshore physical therapy. Over this time, she has developed specialties in general orthopedics, manual therapy, and sports rehabilitation. Meredith has specific interests in sports related injuries. She takes a keen interest in new methods and advancements in physical therapy practice and has taken multiple continuing education courses to improve her skills and enhance her knowledge. If you have any questions or are looking for physical therapy please contact her at Lakeshore Physical Therapy.

Photos courtesy of Meredith Franczyk