The Achilles Tendon is a tendon connecting your heel bones to the base of your calf muscles. It is the biggest and thickest tendon in the human body, as well as one of the most used. Considering those facts, it should come as no surprise that injuries to the Achilles Tendon are quite common.
Anyone can injure their Achilles Tendon, but injuries are most common in people who do activities that involve sudden bursts of movement, such as football, dancing, tennis, or gymnastics. Usually the injury is sustained when the individual’s foot is pushing off the ground, as this is when the tendon is under the greatest amount of pressure.
One of the most common problems with the Achilles Tendon is Achilles tendonitis. In medical terms, the suffix -itis always refers to inflammation, so Achilles tendonitis is the inflammation of the Achilles Tendon. This is an overuse injury that gradually causes the fibers in the tendon to tear as it is repeatedly stretched and relaxed. This eventually leads to the development of a dull, stiff pain, and can happen for a variety of reasons, such as excessive exercise, or improper footwear.
A similar but less common condition is Achilles tendinosis, which is essentially a non-inflammatory version of the above condition. Tendinosis occurs when a tendon is injured repeatedly, or heals improperly, causing the fibers in the tendon to weaken. The frequent injuries reduce the amount of collagen in the tendon, which means the fibers become misaligned and do not work as effectively. While Achilles tendonitis can usually heal in about 6 weeks, Achilles tendinosis takes 3-6 months to heal.
While both of the examples above are examples of conditions that set in slowly over time, suddenly tearing or rupturing the Achilles Tendon is not uncommon either. This occurs when a person suddenly stretches the tendon farther than it is ready to go, which can cause it to tear either in part or fully. This results in a sudden onset of extreme pain, which may be accompanied by a popping sound. Without the use of their Achilles Tendon, the injured person may find it difficult to walk or stand on their own.
If you have injured your Achilles Tendon, your recovery plan will depend on the type and severity of your injury. More severe ruptures and tears may require surgery, but in most cases, the injury will be able to heal on its own. However, to help the process along, you can always try the RICE technique, which is:
Rest your leg
Ice the injury several times a day for 20 minutes (but remember, never put ice directly on your skin)
Compress the injury with an elastic bandage to help reduce swelling
Elevate your foot so that it is above your heart when you are lying down.
Depending on the nature of your injury, you may also take painkillers and anti-inflammatories, although these may not always be necessary. As mentioned before, these injuries are quite common and will usually take care of themselves with a little time, but if the pain was severe and came on suddenly, or has lasted for more than a week, you may want to consider seeing a professional to make sure the damage isn’t more serious than you suspect.