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The Achilles tendon is one of the most overworked tendons in the body. Almost everything we do — whether in the gym or just walking around — puts stress on it. If you have ever had pain in the Achilles, you know that it can disrupt every aspect of your life.
Fact: Achilles tendon disorders are more common for laborers who spend a lot of time on their feet. The Achilles tendon is formed by the blending of the gastrocnemius muscle and soleus muscles attaching to your heel. It is a tendon that has very little blood supply and very little ability to remodel after stress. Chronic overuse of the Achilles tendon, i.e. doing too much, too often, leads to degeneration of the tendon that we call “tendinosis”. In the early stages, there may be a component of inflammation, thus the term “tendinitis” or “paratenonitis” (inflammation of the sheath surrounding the tendon). Because this is mostly a degenerative process, anti-inflammatory medications are rarely helpful.
One of the main underlying biomechanical factors is a tight gastrocnemius muscle. The gastrocnemius originates above the knee, and any knee stiffness or hamstring tightness can contribute to tightness in the gastro. Stretching your calves is critical to off-loading an unhealthy Achilles. This is done by getting into a lunge position in front of a wall with your back knee straight and your heels on the ground. Point the toe of your back foot toward the heel of the front foot to maintain tension on the Achilles.
If standard stretching isn’t enough, further stretching can be done using a dorsiflexion night splint (available in medial supply stores). This useful tool stretches the muscle as you sleep.