The Achilles tendon is named for the Greek warrior whose weak spot was his heel. Many runners, it seems, have the same weak spot as this warrior. When they increase their mileage or do a hard workout, they find that their Achilles throbs painfully. Perhaps it's even so sore that they have to take a few weeks off from training.
If you've been experiencing Achilles tendon pain, don't simply keep running through it and hope it goes away. By evaluating the potential causes for your pain, you can devise a solution and be back to running pain-free in no time. There are three primary causes of Achilles tendon pain among runners:
Many distance runners take strides that are too long, which causes them to land on their heels instead of on their mid-foot. This puts excessive strain not only on the Achilles tendon, but also on the other tendons and ligaments in the leg. To determine if you're over-striding, simply pay attention next time you head out for a run. Are you landing with your leg stretched more than a few inches in front of your body? Is the majority of your weight coming down on your heel? If so, you're over-striding. Adapting to running with a shorter stride will help you avoid Achilles pain.
The easiest way to fix over-striding is to focus on improving your cadence. Have a friend count how many strides you take within a minute. If you're over-striding, it will probably be around 150 or 160. Then, focus on taking shorter strides, until you get your cadence up to between 170 and 190 strides per minute. In order to keep up this cadence, you'll be forced to take shorter strides, and as a result, you'll land more uniformly on your mid-foot rather than on your heel. Running to an upbeat song can help you pick up your cadence if you're struggling.
Running on a Crowned Road
Do you run most of your miles on the side of the road? If so, you're not alone. While heading out the door and running down your street may be convenient, it's not usually the best thing for your Achilles tendon. That's because most roads are crowned, meaning that they slope towards the shoulders. As a result, one leg is put under more stress than the other one when you run.
If you're really struggling with Achilles pain, you might want to move all of your runs off of the roads until your pain is completely gone. Then, you can slowly add some road work back into your routine, but focus on doing most of your miles on completely flat, unbanked surfaces such as trails or bike paths. If your Achilles pain is just mild, moving two or three runs a week to the trails might be sufficient.
Mild Achilles soreness is generally no reason to worry. Elevate and ice your leg, take it easy for a few days, and you should be set to go as long as you follow the advice above. However, if your pain is so severe that it causes you to alter your stride, be sure to see a podiatrist Aiken Maurice W, DPM PA before you run again.