The Achilles tendon connects your calf muscles to the back of your heel. Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury causing pain and inflammation, usually felt as a dull or sharp pain along the back of the Achilles tendon, usually closer to the heel.
Possible causes of Achilles tendonitis
1. Weak calf muscles
2. Excessive pronation
3. Excessive stress being transmitted through the tendon
4. Excessive power to begin a new stride – push off
Solving the problem
Fist of all, allow the injury to heal. Take a break form running, give it time to heal. There are strengthening exercises you can do to speed up healing, such as Hakan Alfredson’s heel drop, which I used to do a few years ago, when I could barely walk from Achilles tendonitis, and found very useful. Also avoid aggressive stretching. The tendon is injured, it doesn’t need more aggression.
Second, once you are back and ready to resume running observe HOW you run. It might be that the cause of your injury is in your form. You might be placing excessive stress through the tendon with every single step. This is very common and, if the cause is in your form, it can be eliminated.
Here’s what to look for:
1. Landing under the body
The muscles on the front of your legs are considered braking muscles (tibialis anterior – shin; quadriceps – thighs). Muscles on the back of the legs (gastrocnemius and soleus – calf; hamstrings – thigh) are considered propulsive muscles that work with the Achilles tendon (Natural Running – Danny Abshire).
Most runners absorb too much impact from breaking when they land ahead of their body and use too much muscle power to keep moving forward. This “power run” style leads to high impact, long strides and push off which puts the propulsive muscles under great stress.
By landing under the body or the GCM (general centre of mass) and landing lightly on the midfoot/forefoot, then allowing the heel to touch the ground lightly (without putting weight on), you are using the muscles and soft tissues in your foot, ankle, legs and knees (which should be flexed) as shock absorbers to reduce the destructive impact.
This is the first thing to change in your running. All the following bullet points usually take care of themselves once your landing is straight under the body.
2. Midfoot/forefoot landing
Modern running shoes allow us to land as heavily as we wish. We can’t feel anything, but the impact is there, the damage is happening with symptoms showing up months later.
If you were to take your shoes off and run around a little you’d realise just how aggressive your run actually is. We do this sometimes on soft ground and clients are always shocked at how heavily they land. Without me saying anything their form slowly changes. Why? Because your body doesn’t like it so it will adapt. That doesn’t mean you have to give up regular running shoes, you can land with a midfoot/forefoot strike in any shoes.
Landing on your toes (high heels) or on your heels causes a lot of problems including damage to the Achilles tendon. What you are looking for is a light landing on the ball of the foot and then a light touch with the heel before going on to the next stride.
3. Flexed knees
Many runners land with a stiff leg and ankle, which means the muscles will not absorb the impact and so joints and tendons will suffer. Flex the knees and allow the ankles to bend and flex, don’t hold them stiff and don’t point your toes.
4. Pull, don’t push
When you begin a new stride try to pull the leg under your body rather than pushing your whole weight forward. It’s much easier to pull the leg than push the body. Makes sense? After this a slight lean from the ankles, with a straight, aligned body, will move you forward. It’s light and almost effortless. Here’s a video on how to pick up and pull your feet off the ground.
If you are a long distance, experienced runner you might find that getting these elements into your running form will slow you down and make you feel tired. You’ll probably run less than usual. But the question is: how bad do you want to solve your problem? Addressing the cause of your pain is the only way to permanently get rid of it. Any treatment will last for a while but repeating the same movements what lead to the injury in the first place will cause the injury to recur. Mileage can increase back to your normal, but if your injuries keep coming back you will probably stop running for good.
If you are interested in exploring and developing an effortless and injury-free running style you have a few options including a fast-track 4 weeks course 1-2-1. You will have videos and material after the course to help you continue to develop your running style. If you are interested leave a comment below or contact us here.