Your Achilles tendon is one of the most important parts of your ankle and foot-- it provides range of motion and allows you to actively participate in many sports. When you point your toes and flex your calf muscles, you can see your Achilles tendon bulging at the back of your ankle. It extends from the end of the calf muscle, tucking down into the heel. Because the tendon is so large and strong, it can withstand a lot of abuse. However, many athletes can injure this tendon easily. Here are five ways that you can put your tendon on the injured list:
1. Jump incorrectly.
Jumping has become a major conditioning strategy for people who are trying to achieve both strength and cardio fitness. Box jumps are especially popular in the cross-fit training world. However, many people will throw their weight forward using the rebound of their last jump. When they hit the box, the back of the heels are hanging off the edge, and the weight of the body is not positioned over the feet. Instead, it is still angled out from the box, impacting the legs and the Achilles tendon. This type of jump is tempting because it allows you to get more jumps in a set amount of time, but it can result in devastation for your ankle.
2. Wear high heels all the time.
The occasional heeled shoe should not damage your feet too badly. However, some women have the habit of wearing high heels everyday. The constant wear places a huge amount of stress on the Achilles tendon. When your foot is pointed, remember, it causes the tendon to flex. By elevating the heel off of the floor, your tendon must bear the entire weight of your body, instead of allowing it to distribute evenly through the foot. All it takes is a missed step or twist to the side and the stressed tendon will pull or tear.
3. Wear flat shoes.
Make sure your shoes have great support through the arch. When you walk, the muscles and the arch in your foot flatten out as they hit the ground. The flattening motion irritates the Achilles tendon because the leveling of the arch pulls it tight with each step you take. Eventually, the tendon will tear from overuse. Flip flops and cheap ballet flats are some of the biggest offenders in this area.
4. Never stretch.
Because your Achilles tendon is basically an extension of the muscles in your calves, it can become stretched to the limit if the leg muscles are overly tight. Some people will skip a stretch after a work out because it is boring, painful, or because they need to hurry and move on to the next thing. However, skipping a stretch will eventually cause muscle cramps and reduce blood flow to the tendon, leading to micro tears that can escalate in severity.
5. Over-stride when you run.
Even though both heel striking and mid-foot striking have been deemed safe, the biggest problem for your joints and tendons comes from over-striding-- which usually happens when you strike with the heel. The reason this becomes a problem is that the runner then places the force of the forward motion onto a straight leg, with first contact being at the heel. The force compacts the leg, putting stress on both the Achilles tendon and on the knee. Eventually, over-striding will lead to intense knee pain, shin splints, and injury to the Achilles tendon.
Any of the five things listed will hurt the Achilles tendon and greatly reduce your ability to perform in any sport. For more information, talk to a doctor that specializes in podiatric sports medicine.