The Achilles tendon is a very strong, fibrous band that connects your calf muscle to your heel. As the largest tendon in your body, the Achilles tendon helps you push off with your foot when walking or running and also helps you stand on your tiptoes. Plus, it helps stabilize the foot, ankle, and lower leg, and plays a major role in your gait (the way you walk) and your mobility. When the Achilles tendon becomes injured or inflamed, you can feel pain in your calf and your heel. Pain can also extend into your foot and up to your knee.
Sports injuries are common causes of Achilles tendon pain, and pain can also occur as a result of overuse or failure to warm up before exercising or participating in sports, especially running or hiking. Both Achilles tendon tears and tendonitis are more common among older people and among weekend warrior athletes who tend to push themselves too hard or use improper warm-up or training techniques.
First, your provider will assess your symptoms and your ankle joint to determine the type of injury you have. In a few cases, they may prescribe diagnostic imaging to gain additional information about your injury. Treatment will depend on the type of injury and the amount of damage to your tendon. Mild Achilles injuries often resolve with rest, elevation, and application of ice, along with pain medication to reduce discomfort.
Gentle stretching exercises can also help promote healing. Your provider may recommend custom orthotics to help reduce strain and stress on the tendon to prevent future injuries. You may need to take it easy for weeks or even months to enable the tendon to fully heal. For more severe problems, your doctor may use casting or splinting to immobilize your lower leg so your tendon can heal, or they may need to perform surgery to repair the tendon, especially if it’s badly torn. Physical therapy can also help you improve your mobility and strength as you recover.
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