Ouch! Does the tendon at the back of your heel hurt when you get out of bed in the morning? Can you feel it burning after you’ve walked or run a bit? Do your lower legs feel tight? Chances are you have Achilles tendonitis.
Your Achilles tendon connects the muscles in your calf to your heel bone. It’s actually the largest tendon in your body. When it becomes injured, your Achilles tendon can become tight, stiff and cause achy or burning pain.
A common condition of your Achilles tendon is called tendonitis, which is exactly as it sounds—inflammation of the tendon (The term itis indicates inflammation). Achilles tendonitis is common in athletes who run a lot or play racquet sports that demand a lot of quick starts and stops. It can be caused by not warming up properly, using worn-out athletic shoes, poor biomechanics, working out in cold weather or a discrepancy in the length of your legs. In addition, some people get bone spurs on the back of their ankle, which can irritate the tendon. Bones spurs can develop from arthritis or from wearing shoes that don’t fit well.
Where is Achilles Tendonitis Pain Located?
The pain associated with Achilles tendonitis may be felt anywhere along the tendon, from your heel to your lower calf muscle. The pain and stiffness is usually worse when you get up in the morning, but feels better with movement and stretching. One key to preventing and managing Achilles tendonitis is keeping your calf muscles stretched, warmed up and loose.
Over time, if Achilles tendonitis is left untreated, it can cause degeneration in the fibers of the tendon. This is called Achilles tendinosis. It can lead to permanent thickening and scarring of the tendon. For some people, Achilles tendinosis occurs because the earlier condition of tendonitis wasn’t particularly painful, and the tendon went untreated.
Your Achilles tendon can also rupture, which means that the fibers have become partially or fully torn. An Achilles rupture is usually caused by trauma to the tendon or force that causes the tendon to overstretch, such as a sudden pivot or stop. People who have had their Achilles rupture sometimes report hearing the tendon pop. Not only is a tendon rupture extremely painful, but the person can’t bear weight or walk on that foot. When the tendon is completely ruptured, it may require surgery.
Treatment Options For Achilles Tendonitis
So what can you do if you have Achilles pain? The answer is, a lot! Certainly, the first order of business is to rest the tendon so you don’t do any further damage. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop all activity, but it’s important to monitor the tendon for pain and keep your calf muscles warm and stretched.
A Western doctor may recommend taking an NSAID (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) such as ibuprofen. And while many other injuries may be treated with steroid injections, they are not recommended for use for Achilles injuries because as it can degrade the tendon.
Fortunately, Achilles tendonopathies (tendonitis and tendinosis) respond extremely well to natural treatments, and that’s where BodaHealth shines. We offer cold laser treatments, which are ideal for this kind of injury. Cold laser is a low-intensity laser therapy that’s specifically designed to gently and painlessly target the damaged tendon. Cold laser therapy works because it produces changes deep within the tissue at the cellular level to reduce inflammation, repair the damaged tissue and relieve your pain. Research has also found that cold laser therapy helps promote collagen formation by remodeling damaged and scarred tissue, producing the healthy connective tissue that your Achilles tendon needs to function.
Acupuncture is also a great choice in treating Achilles tendinopathies. While most people understand that acupuncture is a great treatment option for treating pain, it also has been found to reduce inflammation and promote circulation so the injury has the blood and nutrients to heal. Researchers studying the treatment of the Achilles tendinopathies with acupuncture have concluded that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain and improving activity levels.
At BodaHealth, we have an exercise physiologist on staff who is experienced in treating patients with Achilles pain. They work with patients to assess the cause of their injury and provide them with a program that may include self-massage techniques, home exercises and stretches. Their goal is to rehabilitate your Achilles tendon, relieve your pain, increase strength in your calves, help increase mobility and functionality and provide strategies to prevent a recurrence of the injury.
Because Achilles tendon pain is often the result of tight calf muscles, massage therapy is also a valuable tool in relaxing and releasing the involved muscles, which takes some of the strain off of your Achilles. Massage therapy also increases circulation throughout the affected area, which helps speed up the healing process.
At BodaHealth, we also offer instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) in the form of Graston therapy or through the traditional Chinese therapy of Gua Sha. Both therapies work by using an instrument rubbed or scraped along the tendon to re-spark the inflammatory process, which triggers the formulation of new collagen and promotes healing.
The takeaway message is that Achilles tendon pain is common—if you suffer from it, you’re not alone. It can be frustrating too, because it directly inhibits your physical activity. However, the good news is that there are a number of natural treatments which can be effective in relieving your pain and getting you back to your active lifestyle. If you’re struggling with Achilles pain, give us a call today to find out how we can help you literally get back on your feet!
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Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.