An injury to your Achilles tendon can range from inflammation, swelling and irritation (also called tendonitis) to a full rupture. Although pain in this tendon can prevent you from exercising as you usually would, there are still activities you can participate in with an Achilles tendon injury.
What Causes Achilles Injury?
The Achilles tendon connects the muscles in your calf to your heel through a band of fibrous muscle tissues. The tendon assists in movements such as walking, running and jumping.
Either tendonitis or a rupture can cause an Achilles injury. Tendonitis usually occurs in younger, more active individuals due to overuse or aggressive training. However, it can occur in anyone at any age.
The swelling, irritation and inflammation that occur due to tendonitis will be painful. This pain can be felt down the back of your leg and around your heel, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The tendonitis can cause a hardening of your tendon over time that will progress and worsen unless treated.
One type of Achilles tendonitis called insertional Achilles tendonitis can also cause bone spurs. Bone spurs grow at the area where your tendon connects to the heel bone. This type of Achilles tendonitis can occur in anyone, whether they are active or not.
Noninserstional tendinitis occurs when the middle section of tendon fibers begin to degrade with small tears, causing swelling and thickness. Tendinitis of the middle portion of the tendon more commonly affects younger, active people.
An Achilles tendon rupture is a more painful and dangerous type of Achilles injury. If you experience an Achilles tendon rupture, you will likely know it. A rupture is a complete or partial tear of your tendon, and there might be a popping sound on the back of your heel or your calf. This type of Achilles tendon injury requires immediate medical attention.
Exercising With an Achilles Injury
Exercising with an Achilles injury may seem like a daunting task, but there are activities that you can participate in. Kaiser Permanente recommends gradually returning to your training regimen by starting back at about half the level of exercise you did before your injury, as long as there is no pain. It's also recommended not to increase your activity by more than 20 percent week-by-week during your recovery.
Instead of focusing on only one activity such as running, try to add a variety of modalities to your workout routine. Options for cardio with Achilles tendonitis include swimming or using a stationary bike or elliptical machine.
Options for strength training include any upper body exercises, especially those performed in seated positions such as seated overhead shoulder press, biceps curls, triceps extensions, cable rows, flyes and chest press. Lower body exercises will depend fully on the nature and extent of your injury but could include leg extensions, hamstring curls, leg adductions and abductions, among others.
Other tips for exercising with an Achilles injury are to be sure to add enough rest days, to train on soft surfaces rather than hard ones such as concrete, maintain a healthy weight and wear shoes that support your level and type of activity.
When you are fully healed and have the go-ahead from your care provider, participating in calf strengthening exercises is a great way to help prevent future Achilles injuries, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is vital to keep active and in shape year round, to stretch before participating in any sports or exercise, and to take calf strengthening slowly.