There are so many parts of your body that can start to hurt when you run, but usually it's a good sort of ache that means you're working your muscles. When your achilles tendon — the thin tendon on the back of your foot — begins to hurt, though, you want to take notice. If you catch the problem early, it won't sideline you for a lengthy period.
The Cause of the Pain
Technically speaking, the pain you're experiencing isn't Achilles tendinitis, but rather Achilles tendinopathy. Causes include overuse — i.e. running too much — increasing mileage too quickly, running hills, sprinting or increasing too much speed too soon. Additionally, skipping your warm-up can cause this pain, as can trauma to the tendon, flat arches and wearing shoes without enough support.
Types of Tendinopathy
There are two types of Achilles tendinopathy: noninsertional and insertional. Noninsertional Achilles tendinitis occurs when the middle of the tendon tears and becomes inflamed. It typically occurs in active, young individuals. Insertional Achilles tendinitis affects the lower portion of the tendon that attaches to the heel. This type can occur in anyone, even people that are not physically active.
Signs of Tendinopathy
Symptoms include heel pain that is worse with activity, heel pain in the morning, heel pain after running, stiffness of the Achilles tendon, swelling in the back of the heel and decreased range of motion of the foot. If you feel a popping sensation in the back of the heel, you may have ruptured the tendon.
Soothing the Pain
The condition will usually heal on its own with conservative treatment at home, although it may take some time for the pain to subside. Treatment should be started right away. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons notes that it may take three months or more for pain to subside, even if treatment is started right away. Recovery time can even take as long as six months if treatment is postponed for several months.
The first thing you must do is to rest the injured foot. Do not do any activities that make the pain worse, especially high impact activities such as running. Instead, try doing low-impact activities such as walking, biking, elliptical machines and swimming.
Apply ice to the Achilles tendon for 20 minutes several times a day. This will help reduce pain and swelling. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen will help decrease pain and swelling as well.
See your doctor immediately if you experience severe pain in the heel, are unable to bear weight on the foot or cannot push up on your toes or push your foot down.
How to Prevent the Pain
To avoid Achilles tendinitis in the future, gradually increase the intensity of your running routine, avoid activities that exacerbate pain, wear appropriate running shoes, stretch before and after running, warm up properly before stretching, do exercises that build calf muscles and try cross-training by alternating running with low-impact exercises to reduce the amount of stress on the tendon.