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Yoga & the Achilles Tendon

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Yoga & the Achilles Tendon
Pain at the back of your ankles can indicate achilles issues. Photo Credit Dimedrol68/iStock/Getty Images

Your achilles tendon does the important job of connecting your heel bone to your calf. It's instrumental when you walk, run or jump — and you may just not have an appreciation for it, until something goes wrong.

An inflammation at the achilles, known as achilles tendinitis, can cause discomfort, a dull ache and even shooting pain in the area behind your ankle and in your lower leg. A more serious achilles tendon tear or rupture means parts, or all in the case of a rupture, of this thick fibrous tissue has torn, and leads to swelling, severe pain and impaired movement.

Many yoga poses activate the achilles tendon. Think of when you stretch your heels toward the earth in Downward-Facing Dog, for example. If you have an achilles injury, your practice must be modified. Now, if you don't have an injury, yoga can help you keep the supple calves necessary to prevent damage. Yoga also offers a fabulous way to cross train this connective tissue that has high demands placed upon it every day.

Read More: Yoga for Leg Flexibility

Yoga for Calf Health

Tight or weak calf muscles put you at a higher risk of developing pain in your achilles tendon. Use yoga poses such as Warrior I or II, Side Angle, Crescent Lunge and Goddess to strengthen your calves.

Poses that stretch your calves include Eagle, Downward-Facing Dog and Forward Fold. Garland pose, or Malasana, is particularly good for your calves. It involves opening your feet as widely as you need and sitting down into a squat with your pelvis just inches from the floor. Bring your hands to the center of your chest as you breathe in this low squat for five to 10 breaths.

Malsana is a valuable way to work your calf muscles.
Malsana is a valuable way to work your calf muscles. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Yoga for Cross Training

Achilles problems often arise from overuse, chronic hill running, wearing old or unsupportive shoes while exercising or exercising on soft surfaces. Yoga offers a way to counter all of these risk factors. You're constantly moving and changing position in a flowing yoga practice, so your feet bear your weight in different ways -- combating overuse. Bare feet in yoga supports healthy achilles and you usually practice on a hard floor covered by a thin mat, which can be healing for your achilles, too.

Yoga with an Achilles Injury

Yoga is still available even if you're suffering from an achilles injury, the nature of that practice depends on the severity of your injury.

If you have tendinitis, keeping your heel from lengthening helps alleviate pain and avoids aggravating the achilles. So, in poses such as Downward Dog, don't force your heels toward the floor. If it's uncomfortable to set your back foot down in Warrior I, then come to the ball of your foot in a Crescent Lunge style posture. If the full poses aggravate your pain, shorten your stride, or take alternatives such as Cat/Cow in lieu of Downward Dog or kneel in Warrior I.

Kneeling lunge is an alternative to standing poses.
Kneeling lunge is an alternative to standing poses. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

A tear or rupture that's put you in a boot means your practice will have to change notably. You may be restricted to yoga in a chair until you've healed or undergone surgery to repair the torn tendon. Once you're healing and out of the restrictive boot, take yoga as mostly seated poses on the mat. Over time, you'll ease into simple poses such as standing folds and knee-based lunges to keep your hips healthy. Always talk to your doctor about your exercise habits and ask her what movements are OK for you.

Read More: 13 Reasons to Start Practicing Yoga

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