Coping with Calf Pain and Achilles Tendonitis

6 min read

Achilles tendonitis is the most common sports injury amongst people over the age of 40.  In fact, 5 – 12% of all running injuries involve the Achilles tendon.  It’s a serious injury, and if you don’t treat it properly, you can have problems with it for years.  If you have calf pain or Achilles tendonitis, don’t ignore it. Check out these tips on coping with calf pain and Achilles tendonitis.

The Calf

There are two muscles in the calf.  They are the gastrocnemius and the soleus.  There are two heads in the gastrocnemius that compose the upper, thicker part of the calf.  The bottom, thinner part of the calf is the soleus.

It is commonly but mistakenly believed by many that the calves are the part of the body that move the body forward during the gait cycle.  The truth is that the calves are actually most active when the foot is making contact with the ground.

This motion provokes the extension of the hip in order to propel the body forward.  With this information in mind, we now know that we should be treating calf injuries differently.  Instead of attempting to strengthen the calf through calf raises, we should focus on reducing the load that is placed on the gastrocnemius during the gait cycle.

How exactly can one reduce the load on the gastrocnemius?  The answer is by improving the gait cycle and generating proper hip extension.  When this is done, the leg will move under the body in a bent position, reducing pressure on the gastrocnemius.

Try these exercises to improve your form and protect your calves.

  1. Theraband Drive Back:  Stand facing a cable machine with your foot attached to the machine.  Stand on one foot, balancing your weight on the foot that is not attached to the cable machine.  You can hold on to a chair or another object to steady you.  With your foot in the band, move the foot backwards, focusing on generating this motion from the glutes and hamstrings.  Bring the leg back slowly.  Repeat this motion 20 to 25 times on each side.
  2. Single Leg Glute Bridge:  Lie on the ground with your back flat.  Bend one knee, and place the foot flat against the floor.  Keep the other leg extended on the ground.  Contract your core and glutes, and slowly lift your pelvis off the ground.  Your shoulder blades should remain flat against the ground.  Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.
  3. Donkey Kicks:  Get on the ground on your hands and knees.  Wrap a theraband around the bottom of your foot.  Stretch the leg back and up while squeezing the glutes.  Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.
  4. Straight Leg Bounds:  Run straight ahead, kicking your legs out straight in front of you.  As you do this, push into the ground with your hips and glutes.  Run 50 to 100 meters.
  5. Lunges:  While keeping your core tight, lunge forward.  The knee of the leg in front should not bend past the tip of the toes.  Repeat 15 times on each side.

The Achilles Tendon and Ankle

The strongest tendon in the body is the Achilles tendon.  It is also the thickest tendon in the body.  It runs along the back of the leg, connecting the muscles in the calf to the back of the heel.

When you are walking or running, the Achilles tendon and the ankle are primarily responsible for pushing your body off from the ground.  When you are running, a great deal of force is created by your body pushing off of the ground; actually, the force can be three times the body weight.  The Achilles tendon is responsible for transmitting all of that force.  Running faster increases the amount of strain on the Achilles tendon.

When Achilles tendonitis first develops, it tends to feel like a dull, stiff sensation.  As you warm up, this sensation may go away.  However, running uphill or running faster may make it worse.  Over time and with continued training, it will start to hurt more often and more severely.

Achilles tendonitis can occur in a couple of different places in the tendon.  The most common location is the midpoint, which is a few inches above the heel.  The second location is about an inch above the heel bone, which is known as insertional Achilles tendonitis.

Exercises for Achilles Tendonitis

Most injuries to the Achilles tendon are caused by stress.  This stress can be caused by poor running form, weak tendons, or poor range of motion in the ankle.  You can strengthen the Achilles tendon to prevent injury.  Specifically, strengthening the Achilles tendon should focus on strengthening the collagen that makes up the tendons.

If you injure your tendon, the collagen fibers in the tendon rupture.  Although the body produces new collagen fibers, they may not be as healthy or well laid out as the original collagen fibers.  Doing exercises helps the collagen to develop in a smooth, well laid out manner.  Give these exercises a try to improve the health of your Achilles tendon.

  1. Straight Knee Eccentric Heel Drop:  Stand on a step and lift your left foot up slightly so that you are balancing on the ball of the left foot.  Bend the right leg at the knee.  Lower the left foot slowly until it hangs over the edge of the step.  Repeat this motion 15 to 25 times on each side.  As this gets easier, you can increase resistance by performing this exercise while wearing a backpack full of books.
  2. Bent Knee Eccentric Heel Drop:  This will be performed in the same way as the straight knee eccentric heel drop, except that you will bend both knees.
  3. Balance and Eccentric Reach with Toes:  Stand on your right foot facing a wall.  Your right foot should be about 2 ½ feet away from the wall.  Hold the left foot toward the front of the body with the foot lifted off the ground and the leg fairly straight.  Keep the upper body straight, and bend the right leg at the knee.  While bending the right leg, move the left toes forward until they touch the wall.  Keep the left leg fairly straight during this process, and then return to the starting position.  Next, repeat this process and move the left foot forward and to the left.  Return the starting position.  Finally, repeat this process again, but move the left foot forward and across the body toward the right.  Do four to six reps in each direction.
  4. A Simple Massage. Make your Achilles tendon more relax with massage. This massage can help you to relieve the pain. Check the video below.

If you suffer from calf pain or Achilles tendonitis, you don’t have to suffer any longer.  Visit Foot Solutions UK.  We have all of the tools that you need to relieve your pain.  We have a wide selection of supportive shoes & arch supports that can help to relieve Achilles tendonitis pain.

In addition, we also offer shoe fitting service. We can measure your feet and If necessary, order a pair of shoes that will fit you perfectly and provide support and comfort exactly where you need it.  To learn more about how Foot Solutions UK can help with your Achilles tendonitis pain, stop in the store today.