06 Nov Don’t Let Pain Be Your Achilles Heel: Knowing When You May Have An Achilles Tendon Injury
You’ve heard of someone having an “Achilles heel,” right? Basically, the term comes from ancient mythological lore based on a guy named Achilles. In short, when someone says they or someone else has an “Achilles heel,” basically they’re saying he or she has a weakness (no matter how physically strong they are) that can lead to a downward spiral.
Anyway, the story begins when Achilles is a baby. An oracle tells his parents that Achilles is destined to die very young. Well, Achilles’ mom, being a mom, was like, “Oh, no – I’m going to stop this some way, some how.”
So, she took him to the mystical River Styx and dipped him into the water for protection. But, she made a mistake that ended up being fatal. Unbeknownst to her, she missed a spot. When Achilles grew older, as luck would have it, he was shot with a poison arrow in the ONE place that wasn’t protected – his heel. And…he died!
So, what’s the point of this story? Well, number one, I think it’s always pretty cool to point out where things get their name, take for example, the Achilles tendon (which we’ll get into in a second), and number two, while Achilles tendon weakness can be common, unless you get shot with a poison arrow in that very spot, unlike Achilles, you’ll definitely live to tell the tale.
That said, I’m sure you’re wondering how exactly do you injure your Achilles tendon? Well, first, I can’t stress enough that you don’t need to be an athlete or warrior like Achilles – a ruptured tendon can happen doing the most mundane tasks, like climbing a ladder or working in an environment where repetition and routine places constant stress on feet and ankles (think nurses, wait staff and retail).
It also occurs in what I like to call the “weekend warrior” group – people who participate in crazy weekend activities they don’t usually do, and when they do, they tend to go a bit overboard (think hiking, rock climbing, skiing, running).
And whether you’re an experienced triathlete or weekend warrior or on your feet all day doing repetitious movements, I can’t begin to stress the importance of stretching. Here is a great resource with examples on how to safely stretch your Achilles tendon.
Now that you know the story behind the man and the causes, let me give you a bit of background on the tendon. The Achilles tendon is the longest and strongest tendon in the body. It’s also a tendon that really takes a beating with constant wear and tear. This can lead to inflammation due to overuse or sudden stress, and from there, the tendon can continue to weaken, causing microscopic tears.
The most common symptoms of Achilles tendon injuries tend to be pain, stiffness and tenderness, with the pain worse in the morning and improving with motion, BUT, the more stress and activity you put on the foot, the worse the pain becomes.
I can’t stress enough to my patients not to ignore this pain. Ignoring the pain and hoping it will go away can cause further deterioration and even a rupture (ouch!).
How I treat Achilles tendon injuries depends on the patient. There are several treatments that can help alleviate pain and promote healing, and I always go the conservative route, first, if possible. For example, for some patients, a cast is necessary to immobilize the Achilles tendon, for other less severe injuries, icing is prescribed to reduce swelling. I also often use injection therapy to help reduce pain and inflammation. Finally, surgery may be required depending on the severity of the injury.
So, if you’re in pain and think you may have symptoms caused by Achilles tendonitis, for goodness sake, don’t let your pain be your Achilles heel! Give me a call, today and I’ll make sure you put your best foot forward, again!