According to doctors and researchers specializing in fasciae, a healthy, well-trained Achilles tendon is very important for a lot of sports. Like a spring, when running or lifting the foot, the Achilles tendon can store a lot of energy which it then releases when the foot goes down. When hopping or jumping it also uses a significant part of its capacity.
- Why the Achilles tendon is so important when doing sport.
- Why kangaroos jump so far – the catapult effect of the Achilles tendon during sport?
- Achilles tendon problems are common in these types of sport.
- Sport and Achilles tendon pain: Keep going – a break from sport – or give up altogether?
- What must I bear in mind when resuming sporting activity after a break?
- How long will I be without doing sport if I have an Achilles tendon complaint?
- What alternative sport can I do if I have an Achilles tendon complaint?
- Achilles tendon training – how to train your Achilles tendon correctly!
1. Why the Achilles tendon is so important when doing sport
When doing sport, the Achilles tendon plays a huge role in order to
- deliver maximum performance
- prevent injuries and
- recover quickly from injuries and complaints.
2. Why kangaroos jump so far – the catapult effect of the Achilles tendon during sport?
The contracting power of the kangaroo’s muscles alone is not enough for it to be able to do those giant leaps. Another force is needed, and this is provided by the fasciae and above all the Achilles tendon.
In Figure A we can see an elastic Achilles tendon which is stretched as the foot is lifted and so stores energy. When the foot goes down again, the muscles are shortened – the actual muscular effort – and the Achilles tendon releases the stored energy. In Figure B the tendon does not store any energy, the muscle is stretched excessively and there is no extra energy! Why? Because the tendon is not fit, healthy and elastic.
Running/jogging – many athletes have Achilles tendon complaints due to
- a bad running style – working the calf muscles too hard
- incorrect foot positioning (flat feet) and unphysiological rolling movements like overpronation or supination of the foot, when the foot rolls too far inwards or outwards with every step
- overloading due to the ground being too hard or training sessions or sprints being too long
- changing running styles too quickly – from heel to midfoot to forefoot strike.
Triathlon: the same problems as with running/jogging
- similar reasons to running: running style, incorrect foot positioning, overloading in excessive training sessions
- especially due to high loads when changing direction quickly, setting off quickly and stopping abruptly – artificial grass also does its bit
- overloading when changing direction quickly, setting off quickly and stopping abruptly, especially on indoor floor surfaces
- overloading due to excessive movement on tiptoe
Other causes of Achilles tendon problems in all types of sports:
- a poorly developed ability to perceive foot movements (poor proprioception)
- problems in functional chains
- muscular deficits in the lower calf muscles which stabilize the foot (tibialis anterior and posterior muscles)
4. Sport and Achilles tendon pain: keep going, take a break from sport or give up altogether?
Important: first you need to establish which parts of the tendon are affected. Then you need to know what stage the tendon injury is in or which healing phase!
When you have found that out, you can decide whether and how to carry out your sporting activity. Generally speaking: the circulation in the Achilles tendon should be increased and stimuli used to encourage the tendon to regenerate healthy material. But be careful: in the case of acute inflammation and of course a tear, a break is advised.
Nobody needs to give up sport completely for Achilles tendon complaints. Don’t lose heart! You’ll get there!
You can see further info in the ‘Healing phases’ chart.
Special cases: not all complaints that could be linked to the Achilles tendon are shown in the chart. That would be too extensive. So, we've summarized it here:
- Pain in the back of the heel bone: a trigger for this might be Haglund’s deformity, a protrusion/swelling on the heel bone
- Pain in the lower part of the heel bone: this can be triggered by a heel spur. This is a thorn-like bone growth at the bottom of the heel bone
In both cases, we recommend that you see your doctor or physiotherapist.
5. What must I bear in mind when resuming sporting activity after a break?
Important: movement or training must always be appropriate for the corresponding healing phase. If the stimulus is too little, the Achilles tendon will not heal properly; if it is too much, this may make everything worse. If necessary, ask your doctor or physiotherapist for advice!
6. How long will I be without doing sport if I have an Achilles tendon complaint?
This depends on the complaint or diagnosis and the healing stage in which the Achilles tendon is at present. Your doctor or physiotherapist must provide a correct diagnosis first.
In later treatment phases, you can resume your sporting activity alongside the treatment, but with lighter loads. Full-weight-bearing exercise is only recommended upon successful completion of your Achilles tendon treatment.
7. What alternative sport can I do if I have an Achilles tendon complaint?
- Aqua jogging
To a certain extent these activities can help to maintain your fitness level without placing too much strain on the Achilles tendon.
8. Achilles tendon training – how to train your Achilles tendon correctly!
Do all the previously mentioned reasons for Achilles tendon complaints mean that I have to restrict my running training, that I can’t change my running style, that I can no longer play soccer on an artificial pitch and that I should avoid rapid movements?
The good news: no! By training the Achilles tendon you will be prepared for almost everything.a) How to train your Achilles tendon for sport
- Through correctly dosed training, the Achilles tendon will also become more resilient when doing sport, meaning that it can adjust to increasing training loads. But be careful: the tendon needs more time to adapt than muscle!
- Correct nutrition: a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of essential amino acids, vitamins, trace elements and minerals (special websites on nutrition provide more detailed information on this).
- Footwear that ensures your feet are in the correct position (see an expert for advice: ask your doctor or physiotherapist whether your foot is in the correct position.).
- Gradually increase the amount of training. Listen to your body!
- When making movements during sport which place a great deal of strain on the Achilles tendon such as changes in running style, sudden changes of direction on hard ground or standing on tiptoe when dancing, you must always bear in mind that the tendon needs a long time to adjust, much longer than your muscles.
- Systematically plan training breaks. Recovery time will help you to get better!
- Don’t forget to do regular stretching exercises for the whole body, in particular to stretch the fasciae. Here, we recommend training with a foam roller.
- Do regular eccentric stretching exercises or Achilles tendon training.
- Warm up before doing sport, including the Achilles tendon, also by stretching – but not stretching too far, otherwise this may cause mini injuries in the Achilles tendon tissue.
- Wear FALKE Achilles socks to maintain good circulation.
b. How to recover properly – a break for the Achilles tendon after doing sport!
Recovery time not only helps you to get better; if cut short, you run the risk of injuring yourself!
Just as your muscles (and whole body, especially your circulatory system) need recovery time after intensive training and become stronger or more resilient thanks to the regeneration processes, the Achilles tendon also needs time to recover after sport. High loads lead to a build-up of collagen, but collagen also starts to break down immediately after training and needs more than 36 hours. So, leave at least one day of rest between one intensive training session and the next! Of course, in the meantime it is possible to carry out other intensive sporting activities that do not place the Achilles tendon under so much strain.
The Achilles tendon is your friend when doing sport; it gives you energy and enables you to have fun!