Achilles tendonitis is a more common injury than most people realize.
But the best way to strengthen the tendon and reduce the chances of it reoccurring is by regularly doing the best exercise for Achilles tendonitis.
This will help you keep the tendon loose and supple, lowering the chances of damage due to overuse of the Achilles tendon.
Here are the best exercises you can do to protect your Achilles tendon.
What Is Achilles Tendonitis?
Achilles tendonitis is the name for inflammation of the thick tendon that runs down the back of your leg— aka the Achilles tendon.
It’s usually an overuse injury, which happens due to excess pressure placed on the tendon over a long period of time which overloads the tendon.
The Achilles tendon plays a crucial role in everyday actions like walking, running, bending, and jumping. It works with the calf muscles to help you push off the ground every time you take a step.
Achilles tendonitis is an acute inflammation of the tendon. If you don’t rest your foot and allow it to heal, this can become Achilles tendonosis, the chronic form of Achilles tendonitis.
In severe cases, this can lead to Achilles tendinopathy, when the collagen protein that forms the tendon begins to break down. Or the Achilles tendon can rupture, which will require surgery.
Achilles tendonitis is usually caused by overuse of the tendon. This is often a result of a repetitive motion that affects the tendon, such as running or jumping.
Achilles tendonitis can be caused by a sudden increase in the intensity, amount, or duration of an activity.
If you don’t allow your body time to adjust to increases slowly, it can place extra strain on the Achilles tendon, leading to inflammation.
Other causes of Achilles tendonitis include: Haglund’s deformity—an enlargement of the bone at the back of the heel—can cause friction on the Achilles tendon and lead to inflammation.
Medical conditions can also lead to Achilles tendonitis, such as bone spurs, arthritis in the feet, and obesity can increase the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis.
Age can also play a part, as the tendon may wear down and become inflamed as we become older.
The most common symptom of Achilles tendonitis is pain running along the back of the ankle or heel—where the tendon is situated—that gets worse with activity and feels better with rest.
This may even lead to severe pain in the tendon the day after exercise.
Pain and stiffness in the Achilles tendon are also common in the morning, especially after a day of exercise.
There could also be swelling in and around the Achilles tendon area. This would get worse with activity.
You may notice the tendon beginning to thicken or that bone spurs begin to form on the back of your heel.
You may also have pain in the back of your heel when you wear shoes that goes away when you take your shoes off.
If you feel a pop in the Achilles tendon, lower calf muscle, or heel, you should consult a doctor as you may have an Achilles tendon tear.
It is usually accompanied by pain, swelling, and weakness in the tendon.
Who Is Most Likely to Get Achilles Tendonitis?
Achilles tendonitis is common amongst runners, as they place a large amount of strain on the Achilles tendon when they run.
In most cases, it occurs in runners who have increased the amount of training, duration of their runs, or intensity of their exercise too quickly.
People who play other sports that place excess pressure on the Achilles tendon—like basketball, tennis, dancing, or others that require quick footwork—are also at a higher risk of developing Achilles tendonitis.
Those who work in jobs where they’re on their feet all day may also be at risk of developing Achilles tendonitis as the tendon is placed under constant strain.
Older people are more prone to developing Achilles tendonitis as the tendon begins to wear down due to natural degeneration as you age.
Certain anatomical features can also place you at a higher risk of developing Achilles tendonitis. For example:
- Tight calf muscles
- Bone spurs
- Flat feet or low arches
Does Exercise Help Achilles Tendonitis?
While you should be taking steps to protect your tendons while you’re doing intense exercises, stretching can help accelerate recovery.
You can also do strengthening exercises to build up the calf muscles, which will help to stabilize the Achilles tendon and protect it.
Stretching exercises help loosen up the muscles around the tendon and the tendon itself.
You may want to wrap or tape the Achilles tendon after your exercise to ensure sufficient support. And afterwards when you are relaxing at home, make sure you are wearing good slippers for Achilles tendonitis.
Exercises to Strengthen Achilles Tendonitis
1. Stair Stretch
This exercise will stretch your Achilles tendon, but it can also help strengthen the calf muscles, which will support the tendon and help reduce the chances of developing Achilles tendonitis again.
You will need a stair or any raised surface a few inches high for this exercise. You should also have something to support yourself, like a stair railing or a wall nearby.
Stand with the ball of both feet firmly planted on the step with your heels off the edge. Hold onto the handrail or wall with one hand to stay balanced.
Slowly allow your heels to drop while keeping your forefoot stable on the step. Lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your calf and your Achilles tendon.
Hold the position for between 15 and 30 seconds when you feel the stretch. Then push your toes down and your heels up, and slowly lift your feet back up to the starting position.
You should do 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. You can do this exercise up to 5 times during one day, when you start to feel a tightness in your Achilles or your calf muscles.
If you find it easier, you can do one foot at a time while supporting yourself with the other foot. Or you can do the exercise with your knees slightly bent for more stability.
2. Forward Lunge
You will need to do this exercise in a space where you can spread out.
Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground with your weight evenly distributed.
Take a step forward. Shift your weight to your center, and slowly bend your knees as you lower yourself down as far as you can.
Make sure you don’t hit your back knee on the ground and hurt yourself as you go down. The movement should be slow and controlled, and you should feel the stretch in your Achilles and calf muscle.
Hold the position for a second or two when you get to the bottom. Then, push up with the front foot and return to the starting position.
Keep your back straight throughout the movement and don’t lean forward and backward—keep a good posture.
You should do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions on each leg. You can alternate legs or do all 10 on one leg before switching to the other leg.
3. Standing Achilles Stretch
You will need to stand in front of a wall, about an arm’s length away for this exercise. Place your hands on the wall, about shoulder-width apart.
Take a step backward with one foot, placing your foot firmly on the floor. Make sure both feet are firmly planted on the floor and your heels are on the ground.
Lean the front knee slightly forward, towards the wall. This should lengthen the muscles in the back leg, but make sure not to lift the heel.
You should feel a stretch in the Achilles and the calf muscle. Push your back heel into the ground.
When you feel the stretch, hold the position for 30 seconds. Make sure not to bend at the waist or twist your hips.
After 30 seconds, switch legs. Do 4 to 6 repetitions on each side.
4. Resistance Band Calf Exercise
Depending on what you have nearby, you can use either a resistance band or a towel for this exercise.
Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. If you find that you can extend your legs without overbalancing, sit with your back against a wall or sit on a cushion, which will help to elevate your hips.
Lean forward and hook the resistance band or towel around the balls of your feet. Sit upright again and hold either end of the band or towel.
Gently pull the towel towards you, keeping your legs straight. Your toes should be flexed towards your body, and you should feel a stretch both in the bottom of your foot and in your Achilles tendon.
When you feel the stretch, pause for a few seconds and then relax the band or towel, allowing the foot to return to its normal position.
Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions on each foot. You can do this up to 5 times a day to loosen the muscles and tendon.