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I’m trying to help those who get Achilles (and maybe calf/soleus too) pains. Pains that sometimes you can run through and sometimes you can’t. Perhaps a pain that stops you training sufficiently to improve.
Firstly I’m not a physio and my ‘Achilles solution’ to all your 5k injury woes is based on my experience of ‘me’ and others I know who have had Achilles problems; sometimes chronic.
There could be some sort of unusual physical issue with you or perhaps you have torn your Achilles. I’m not trying to help you people. Sorry.
There are various places that you can get these pains. I’m not going to give you all the medical names for each of them. It could be your heel or various places on your tendon or on the soleus/calf muscle. That general ‘neck of the woods’.
RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. That is a good mantra. Indeed ice alone might be sufficient to control/manage your issues (eg heel bursa). Let’s say you don’t ice for a couple of days then what happens? Right the pain comes back VERY quickly. So RICE is NOT solving most of the Achilles problems. It is not addressing the cause. Fine for a one-off injury but it will not solve a chronic issue. Chronic means longstanding of over, say, 3 months.
So the ultimate cause of your woes lies elsewhere. It will be mostly in one of more of these 3 areas: sub-optimal technique; inadequate strength; lack of specific flexibility.
MANY physios will tell you, by default, to do some strength exercises. Normally involving stairs and “tip-toes”. You might strike lucky.
Technique: A LOT of force goes through that part of your body when running. It doesn’t take much to put that force in just the wrong place and BANG or SNAP. You know the rest. Running biomechanics are VERY complex think about these:
- Before you run, run upright on the spot lifting your knees. That is pretty much how it should be when you set off. If you bend forwards at your hips then more force is directed through your Achilles. (There should be a slight forward lean coming from the ankles, put that to one side for the time being and run upright)
- You land on your toes. Fine. But if you do your heel MUST touch down immediately afterwards. If you don’t do that try running flat footed (mid-foot sounds better).
- IF you have imbalances in how each of your legs move or if your knees crash together or one of your feet clicks to the side; then these are areas you need to correct.
- A running SHOP will do a gait analysis to tell you the best type of shoe. Most often they are not qualified or appropriate to analyse your detailed running technique. Your local running club will be better able to guide you or even a coach there help you.
Strength: IF all the running muscles are not strong enough then you will favour the muscles that are strongest. Especially as you fatigue more. You become imbalanced and the forces are directed in the wrong place. You get injured.
- It makes sense to do “tip-toe” exercises eccentric/concentric/whatever. These strengthen the muscles around the injured area. That may well help.
- You should also strengthen your glutes and your quads your hamstrings and your hip flexors and, while you are at it, you might as well roll out your ITB. So what I am saying here is that you don’t have a weekly Strength-Conditioning-Plan do you! Oh yes a bit of core work can’t hurt too !
- Don’t get me wrong. Strengthening X may apparently cure your Achilles. However it can just be masking the true cause. That true cause could be a lack of strength but technique will probably underly the true longterm solution as well as contributing to your lack of strength in a certain area.
But what is the point of strengthening some muscles if you don’t (technique) or can’t (flexibility) use them properly?
Flexibility: OK if you are a guy reading this then you probably aren’t as flexible as you could be (that’s probably the safest thing I‘ll write in this post!). If you are inflexible, think how hard your muscles are working to move themselves when they get towards the limits of your flexibility. All that wasted energy! That will tire you out and slow you down. So flexibility = speed gain. I only say that as it is more likely to make you actually do it to get faster! Inflexibility will also lead to incorrect or constrained muscle movements having a similar effect to a lack of strength in that the forces are ultimately directly in the wrong way.
- It will therefore come as no surprise that I tell you to stretch your hamstrings, hip flexors and so on.
- However you will need to work quite a lot on hip mobility. If you know someone who can twerk or does Zumba then you need to be able to do all that funky stuff (though please not in public). This will do other things like allow your stride to be much longer (and make you faster !!)
- You will also need to work on mid-foot and maybe also ankle flexibility. (For mid/fore-foot) You should be landing on the outside of your foot rolling onto the ball of your big toe and then pushing off to the outside again. If you don’t do that you you will be changing the motion of your knee and you may be getting injuries there too!! If you are not rolling onto the ball of your big toe you are not ‘toe-ing off’ properly and that will make you slower. You MIGHT not be able to correctly change this because of your mid-foot or hip flexibility.
Rollers, spikey balls and massage help too. They help manage the condition. They won’t solve it.
I reckon that all makes sense. I won’t solve the world’s Achilles problems in 1000 words but I might solve yours.
Questions ladies and gentlemen please.