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Injury Time Out with Capilano Rehab: Achilles Tendinitis

| September 9, 2015 | Reply

Hike in PatagoniaOne of the great things about living in Edmonton area is that we have beautiful mountain ranges in our backyard, only a short drive away.  We head to Banff or Jasper to hike our stress away but sometimes, in all the rugged action, and we can return home with pain at the back of our Achilles.  Even if you are an active individual, hikers are at an increased risk of aggravating or straining the tendon at the back of your calf due to the steep incline, and the extra weight of a pack increasing the strain on your Achilles tendon.

What can cause a tendinopathy and how do I prevent it?

Your Achilles tendon is a wide tendon that anchors your two calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to your heel.  This tendon can be prone to injury due to the large weight load that is put through it.  When you add in things like a lack of flexibility, repetitive movements, poor foot mechanics (supination or pronation), and the incline you are walking up, you are putting that tendon in an injury stress zone. Let’s break this down into each of those potential causes.

Flexibility:

Like any muscle, the more you work it the bigger it gets and the bigger the muscle gets the shorter it gets as well.  As your two calf muscles shorten, your Achilles tendon is then in return stretched.  A tendon does not stretch quite the same as a muscle, so it is constantly under tension and this creates a weak functional link in your calves and Achilles.  This puts you at risk for tendinopathy (damaged tendon), or even a muscle strain (a minor tear in your muscle).  For hikers this already shortened and tight Achilles tendon may be pushed over the edge (hopefully not literally!) by the simple act of walking up a mountainside.  As you walk up the incline, like the ones at Mount Edith Cavell, you are increasing the forward bend in your ankle, and in return you are putting your Achilles and calve muscles in to a vulnerable greater stretch.

Repetitive Strain:

As you start out on your hike, you usually are feeling great.  As the hike goes on, and perhaps on and on, the repetitive strain put through your Achilles can start to cause micro-tears in the tendon. This repetitive strain comes from the basic steps you are taking while you hike.  Since generally speaking you are hiking uphill any time you step on a roots, rock or any other surface with just your toes, your heel is dropping below the level of your foot.  This puts a stretch through your Achilles tendon.  Then after this drop of your heel you are forcibly contracting your calve muscles to push up to the next step.  The alternating force of the stretch/contract eventually causes tears.  

Poor Foot Mechanics:

Poor foot mechanics exacerbate the situation, especially with the pronation or supination of your foot/feet.  Pronation refers to the inward roll of your foot as your heel strikes the ground.  This causes your arch to flatten out and can increase strain through many tendons throughout your foot and ankle, including your Achilles tendon.  Supination is the opposite, and refers to the outward roll of your foot as your heel strikes the ground.  Supination more commonly leads to ankle sprains, but also can increase risk of Achilles tendinopathy due to the repeated stress put through your Achilles when the alignment of your foot is off.

Incline:

Due to the incline that is generally associated with hiking you are constantly putting your Achilles tendon on a stretch.  This repetition can also lead to micro tears and with continued stretch the tendon becomes weak and prone to further injury.

Before you head out on your hike, keep in mind things like proper foot wear and/or orthotics to adjust your foot mechanics, stretching tight calve muscles, taking breaks through out your hike and even taking smaller steps.  These can help protect you against Achilles tendinopathy.  If you are having nagging calf and/or Achilles pain that just won’t go away with rest, ice and stretching, come see your favourite Capilano Rehab Therapist to help get you back to pain free living.  Call 780-466-1104 to make your appointment today! 

 

Category: Active Living, Community, Healthy Living, Orthotics, R.I.C.E, Sports Rehab

About the Author ()

I am Capilano Rehab Centre’s Community Care Coordinator. I have been with Capilano Rehab for 9 years primarily as a Physio Assistant, but also as a Receptionist. I have a Physical Education Degree from the University of Alberta, which I will eventually use when my two young children are grown up. In the mean time I am enjoying helping people in the Community through my role as Community Care Coordinator and bringing awareness to how a Physiotherapist can help you get back to the activities you love the most!

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