Throughout of the course of a tri-athletes career they are more than likely to feel some pain in the Achilles tendon. Generally this sparks immediate fear and desperation to find a fix. Small aches and pain in the Achilles can easily turn into a more a serious matter. As an athlete attempts to fight through the pain, they can develop a chronic case of an Achilles tendinopathy. Pain can come and go with training, or be a constant. It is common for an athlete to be pain free during activity only to have symptoms flare up after training. Today’s article will give you the information you need to take steps towards healing yourself.
Achilles tendon injuries can be resolved permanently. My first advice as with any injury is deal with it early. Achilles injuries are repetitive in nature. This means that long before you felt the pain, tissue has been battling the injury cycle. If the tendon or calf becomes achy and does not subside within 48 hours have someone look at it. It is seldom this injury disappears without treatment. If left untreated pain can increase and in long term chronic cases the tendon can begin to thicken. These injuries become much more difficult to manage, and success of treatment decreases significantly.
In the sport of triathlon there are 3 main causes that increase the likelihood of developing an Achilles problem:
Problem 1 Overtraining: Training programs for elite and amateur athletes need to be set with a purpose and long terms goals in mind. I always encourage athletes to have programs developed by high quality coaches, who can provide feedback. A common mistake is to purchase a program online, and have no coach to correspond with. General program guidelines often need to be changed by a coach as training progresses. Not everyone can handle the volume of even beginner programs. Higher volume training that is not modified when necessary can easily cause the Achilles to become injured.
SOLUTION: This one is simple. Hire a coach. If you cannot afford it, seek the advice of a seasoned veteran of the sport. Never assume that a program you purchase will work 100% of the time. A coach is able to discuss your progress and monitor results. Poor race results can cue a coach to change the volume of training and make it more suitable to your needs. If you are sore, they can modify workouts. If you are injured they usually have resources to refer you to a qualified professional.
Problem 2 Quad Dominance: The quadriceps are a group of 4 muscles above the knee on the front of the leg. In triathlon these are used mostly in running and cycling. The quadriceps and calves work together. Tri-athletes use these muscles to overcompensate for weakness elsewhere in the body. This eventually puts undue stress on the Achilles resulting in injury.
SOLUTION: Try and get the quadriceps to relax. Foam rolling each area for 5-10 minutes followed by stretching provides great results for relaxation and improves tissue quality. Secondly strengthen the hips and hamstrings. The more they can contribute to your work load the better. Try the exercise below which will be especially helpful for cycling.
Begin in a relaxed position on the floor. Push through the heels to drive the pelvis towards the ceiling. Push until you have a straight line between the shoulder, hip and knee. Perform 10-12 repetitions, take a break and perform twice more.
Problem 3 Ankle Mobility: The ankle joint needs to move properly in running, cycling and swimming. If a joint lacks range of motion or is stiff from past injuries the soft tissue around that joint needs to control the load. The strongest piece of tissue around the ankle is the Achilles. In athletes with stiff ankles it becomes the primary force controller, especially in running. As a result it becomes overworked and injured.
SOLUTION: Perform this exercise! (Picture shows exercise being done on the right ankle)
Flex your knee to 90 degrees and place the hand on the inside of the arch of the foot. Keep the heel on the floor while driving the knee over the foot. Be sure the knee stays over the second and third toe, DO NOT raise the heel. Pause for half a second before returning to the starting position. Perform 3x 15-20 repetitions, 2-3 times daily.