There are many quite common injuries happening to athletes related to muscles or bones in the lower leg. When feeling pain or inflammation in the back of this area, it is important to check for signs of tears or injuries in the Achilles tendon, in other words, called the heel cord. This thick tendon attaches gastrocnemius and soleus muscles to the calcaneus bone, meaning your calf muscles to your heel bone, and therefore facilitates walking and any other kind of similar activities, such as running. Even the smallest tears in these fibers must be dealt with immediately if you want to avoid some long-term issues and further complications.
The main task of the combination of these muscles and bone cooperating in your lower leg is to allow for your heel to rise when walking or running. We are talking about moments during movement when you are basically only standing on your toes. These movements are crucial even for everyday tasks, not to mention the relevance with athletes. Even though the Achilles tendon is the strongest in the body, we need to understand we are often placing our whole body weight on it, and by doing so making it vulnerable. There are several common symptoms to help you recognize this type of an injury, the first one being pain in the back of your calf or near the heel. You should pay special attention if the pain increases during physical activity, and visit a doctor as soon as possible.
Another symptom which appoints to this problem is swelling in the area, especially if it is followed with pain which only gets worse when you are active. People with Achilles tendinopathy will also have problems flexing their foot on the affected leg. For athletes, this is an important part of stretching exercises, so you should be able to notice the tension right away. In general, it will feel sore and the largest problems will be as soon as you wake up. Take that as a sign! In the worst case scenario, if you don’t react to the first signs of the injury, after a couple of days not only your calf and foot will feel tense and sore, but a sharp pain will occur occasionally, followed with a “pop” sound. That is never a good sign coming from your body!
There are many ways for this specific injury to happen, and most of them are connected with improper ways of exercising. First of all, not stretching and warming up before any heavy running or climbing can result this way. Another issue is the placement of the feet, so it may have happened due to your running shoes not being appropriate for the activity. Another common exercise can cause it, and that is a sudden increase and decrease in the intensity of an exercise involving running or climbing. Pay special attention if you’ve ever sprained any calf or tendon muscles, as they will be more prone to damage.
As soon as you feel the pain or notice signs of swelling, start with applying ice to calm down the inflammation. There are many methods from which your doctor can choose, and the desired one will largely depend on the severity of the current condition. This basically implies it will depend on how long you have waited to visit the doctor’s office. The condition can vary from a small tear, which will be solved with some anti-inflammatory medicine, a lot of rest and many ice-packs applied to the injured area. In case of a rupture, orthotic devices and compression bandages will be obligatory, and for larger swellings, your doctor will probably recommend cortisone or some other steroid injections.
There is another option which can be applied in most cases – a shockwave therapy, because it is completely a non-invasive method. It is especially relevant if the problem is recurring or persistent for a longer period. If not taken care of on time, or if greater damages occur, a doctor might even recommend surgical procedures. Two types of surgeries are the most common, the first one being gastrocnemius recession, with the main goal being to lengthen your calf muscles. Another one is used in more severe cases, where there is a need of removal of some parts of damaged tendon tissue.
As you can see, there are various complications from something that can seem naive, but which can even result in surgery. As in many other cases, prevention is the best medicine, so try to avoid such extreme cases. This is not the case where you should try to power through the pain! Properly stretching and wearing appropriate footwear while exercising will greatly reduce any risks of Achilles tendinopathy occurring, but there are some rare cases where a sudden and unfortunate movement can cause it. Another thing worth mentioning is to avoid exercising on uneven surfaces. And if you notice any signs of pain or swelling, immediately stop with physical activities, as you can only irritate an already problematic area.