Pain or inflammation behind your ankle, above your heel? You could be suffering Achilles’ tendonitis or tendinopathy. (If there’s no swelling, the condition is referred to as tendinosis.) This painful condition is the result of muscle imbalance and can be caused by wearing high heels, having flat feet, running, jumping, or dancing. It creates a limited range of motion in the ankle, especially during dorsiflexion (decreasing the angle between the foot and the shin). Other signs/symptoms are pain at rest or during activity, tenderness, irritation, swelling, and thickening of the tendon. For runners it’s very important to begin rehab right away because a tight Achilles’ has been associated with other issues which manifest further up the leg, such as decreased knee range of motion, and decreased activity in the tibialis anterior (next to the shin), rectus femoris (hamstring), and gluteus medius (sides of the buttocks) before and after the heel strikes during run/walk/stride. Failure to deal with this issue and you could be headed for BIG problems.
Your first step: stretch the sections of calves (gastrocnemius and soleus), hamstrings (biceps femoris) and TFL (hip flexor) (see Achilles’ tendinopathy stretches). Your second step: strengthen these areas with the following isolated Achilles tendinopathy exercises: a) foot muscles with towel scrunch with toes, b) anterior and posterior tibialis with dorsiflexion and inversion c) medial gastrocnemius with toe raises, and d) medial hamstring with cable leg curls. Increase the intensity methodically so as to not worsen the injury. Your third step: perform integrated Achilles tendinopathy dynamic exercises: a) single-leg balance reach, to the front, side and rear, b) step up to balance, c) lunge to balance and d) single leg squat and/or single leg Romanian dead-lift. Your fourth step: ice the tendon after activity to reduce/prevent pain and swelling.
Plan your strategy and dig in three times a week. Be sure to move aggressively yet methodically to get that Achilles’ to 100% capacity. Your ancillary benefits will be improved endurance, stability and agility, all of which make running much more enjoyable.
Happy running and jumping!