What Makes the Achilles Tendon So Prone to Injury?
The Achilles tendon is commonly known as the small area at the back of the ankle, but to be more specific, it’s actually a tough band of tissue that acts as the connector between the calf muscle and the heel bone. It is made up of two muscles that come together at the bottom of the calf.
The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the entire body; it can withstand forces up to 12.5 times a person’s weight when they’re running. Its strength allows us to perform all kinds of important movements on our toes, including running and jumping.
Although it is very fibrous and tough, the Achilles tendon is extremely prone to injury. Injuries to the Achilles tendon are common; approximately 230,000 people in the United States experience an injury to this tendon each year.
What makes the Achilles tendon so prone to injury?
Our bodies are made up of a large range of muscles, all of which can begin to feel tight or sore after activity. Luckily for most muscles in the body, there is ample space for a strong flow of blood around them that helps to repair the muscles after rigorous activity and improve any lost strength.
The Achilles tendon, on the other hand, is located in a very small, narrow area where it is difficult to maintain strong blood flow. Therefore, it must rely on the small collection of blood held in the sheath around the tendon. If the area becomes injured even slightly, it will require a lot of time to fully heal.
Oftentimes, athletes will ignore the signs of an injured Achilles and continue to put added pressure on it. Over time, the Achilles cannot heal itself fast enough, and soon the area becomes weakened.
Not only does the Achilles have to work hard to gather blood, but it’s also responsible for withstanding a great amount of force and weight. A weakened Achilles may not be able to withstand the constant forces we apply to it, leading to tears, ruptures and tendinitis.
Who is most susceptible to an Achilles injury?
Anyone can experience an injury to the Achilles tendon, whether they’re taking part in a high-level sport or going for a walk. However, according to doctors, the most common time of life for this kind of injury is between 30-40 years of age.
Other factors that tend to increase the likelihood of an Achilles injury include diabetes, obesity, steroids and hypertension. It is also possible for individuals to have a greater likelihood of injury if they wear high heels often, or if they fail to stretch sufficiently before and after activities or workouts.
Common Achilles tendon injuries
Tears to the area can be large or small; regardless of the size, individuals will likely see swelling that causes pain, discomfort and impaired movement.
Overuse of the area can cause pain and stiffness near the heel, and this kind of injury can sometimes take weeks or months to repair. Some individuals may even have to wear an Achilles tendonitis brace like a night brace or walking splint to reduce the pain or discomfort.
This injury is one of the most familiar, often because it is more obvious and can happen suddenly. Individuals who suffer an Achilles tendon rupture usually hear a “pop” sound and feel a sudden, aggressive force at the back of their heel.
The area becomes swollen and sore, and treatment usually requires surgery or immobilization for a long period of time.
How can you avoid an Achilles tendon injury?
One of the easiest ways to prevent Achilles injuries is to stretch all of the muscles surrounding the calf area and ankle before and after activity. Leaving any one muscle out can cause it to become weak, and other surrounding muscles will have to work harder to compensate.
For effective stretching of this important area, add Achilles tendon stretches to your daily regimen. These include simple exercises like the wall calf stretch, which you can perform at home, at the office or in the gym.
Keeping the areas around the Achilles tendon strong is another key to avoiding injury. One of the easiest exercises you can do is calf raises, which only require a stair step to perform. To do this, stand on the edge of a step with your heel hanging off and hold a wall or railing for balance.
Push up on your toes, hold your stance and then slowly lower down, until your heels are lower than the stair itself. Repeat this move in two different forms, including straight knees and bent knees.
Although the Achilles tendon is more prone to injury than other areas, there is still a level of prevention that can be taken to protect it. Put an emphasis on keeping your calf muscles and Achilles tendon strong and flexible, and be sure to put on the breaks if you feel any pain or discomfort in the area to avoid an even more serious injury.