May 21, 2013

Alleviating Achilles pain 101

After my most recent 50K, the outside edge of my right Achilles felt extremely sore. For several days after the race, it was hard to walk and much easier just to drag my foot behind me without flexing my foot and stretching the achy Achilles. So at home, I did a lot of foot dragging, although when in public, I tried to toughen up a notch and walk straight.

I talked to my doctor, coach, and tons of other runners about the pain and have been implementing a few things that I gleaned from my search for an answer to pain alleviation and prevention. So far, so good. The soreness is pretty much gone, but I'm still trying to be cautious with it to make sure it doesn't creep back in.

So here's my list of Achilles helps.

1. Rest -- Usually I have at least one cross training day and one total rest day in a week, but after the injury I took four days in a row completely off. That seemed to help a lot, so I've been implementing two total rest days into my schedule the last couple of weeks. My legs and my Achilles seem to like that. In fact, I'm in the middle of a rest day right now, and I'm personally loving it. My kitchen sink loved it too when I finally deep cleaned it.

2. Achilles specific exercise -- My coach showed me an exercise to do on stairs that is basically balancing the ball of your foot on a stair while you lower up and down. Like a calf raise but letting your heel drop below the step with each rep. Important: use your non-injured foot to help you lift back to the start. Once the Achilles starts to feel better, you can take out the assistance.

Here's a video that describes it in painfully slow detail, but it's thorough!


I did this on both sides to stay balanced, and I did three sets of 15-20 three times a week.

3. Stretch -- My doctor recommended stretching on a step as well and angling my foot (toes turning to the middle) so that I could really stretch the outside of my heel where the pain was originating.

And as some of you recommended (thanks!), I found yoga to be very helpful, especially downward dog. Basically anytime I'm standing still for a period of time, I just start stretching my calves to keep them loose.

4. Roll -- I've also been focusing on foam rolling my calves. Tight calves aren't great for your Achilles, so keeping them loosened with rolling has helped my situation.

5. Massage -- At first I didn't notice the knots on my right Achilles, but my doctor pointed them out. Sometimes it just takes someone pointing out the obvious to make progress. Also if I feel one foot then the other foot, I notice the difference. So now that I've located the knots, I just use my hands or knuckles to perform a little tissue loosening massage. Not hard to do at all, but I think it helps.

6. Use higher-drop shoes -- I had been running trails in a lower-drop (4mm) shoe about 80% of the time, so I broke out my XR Missions to give my Achilles a little bit of a break from the lower drop.

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So I'm not sure if all, one, or just a few of these are the ticket to actually healing my Achilles because I've been trying them all at the same time, not the best way to design an experiment. But something in there is working, so I'm going to keep going with this list.

Have you tried (successfully or unsuccessfully) any of the above for your Achilles pain? 

What else would you recommend?