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Biology Sports Medicine

Achilles Tendon Stretches: Do’s and Don’ts (repost)

Achilles tendinitis prevention and recovery are issues faced by many runners. As anyone knows who has spent time on my web site, I am not a fan of excessive stretching for this problem. In individuals who are experiencing pain, I advise against the stair stretch, particularly if you’ve been trying it already for 6 weeks or more and found only more pain, and no improvement. In early cases of pain, I like to restrict stretching, thanĀ  graduate to the wall stretch, and then the wall stretch with a bent knee.

Roxanne Darling of Beachwalks with Rox does an excellent job of demonstrating a variety of stretches from the hard to the easy. For those without pain, you may carefully follow Rox’s example of the stair stretch if you’d like. If you have pain, skip that one for now and start with the straight leg, wall stretch and about 3 weeks – 4 weeks later add the bent knee portion. Read the article on Achilles Tendonitis (and Achilles Tendinopathy). A small portion of that article is summarized below. In the meantime, if you need a little downtime and some chilling, visit Beachwalks With Rox for words of wisdom, thought and relaxation.

Stretching With Rox

Achilles Tendonitis / Achilles Tendinopathy Brief Summary of Treatment

Full Text (Achilles Tendonitis)

Exercises to Avoid
Excessive stretching is not good for your Achilles tendon. The stretch that I most often recommend is the “wall stretch”. I do not recommend the “stair stretch”, the “incline stretch”, or the “put a towel around your feet and pull up until it hurts stretch”. If any of these are working for you, that’s great, you don’t need any advice. In most cases, for the patients I see, these stretches put too much tension on the already tender achilles tendon. Contracting the muscle when it is in a stretched position, as initial therapy of an injured achilles tendon is not a good thing. However, as seen in Rox’s video, she demonstrates some super stretches, and if you are not in acutely painful phase, you may cautiously give them a go. But, if you have found the stair stretches to be painful and counter productive, skip them, and look at the others.

Treatment Outline:

Relative rest
Cut back mileage
Lower intensity
Avoid hills, speedwork, plyometrics

Avoid over-stretching
Gentle stretch after warm-up
Start with Straight leg calf stretch, build up much later to bent leg, consider eccentric stretch later.
Ice Massage 10 to 20 minutes after exercise

NSAIDs (note: some recommend avoiding NSAIDS)
– Aleve, Motrin, Ibuprofen, etc. 10 – 14 days.

Check Running Shoes
– Replace if heel is worn
-Replace if excessive heel shock absorption (soft air sole cushion, excessive gel shock absorption)
Replace if shoe is excessively stiff at the “break point” (ball of foot).
Consider using a “heel lift”

Physical Therapy Modalities
HVGS (electrical stimulation)
Ultrasound
Exercise instruction: Strength and flexibility

Current Concepts of Achilles Tendonitis and Achilles Tendinopathy

While Achilles tendon problems are widespread, the terminology used to describe them is often inaccurate and is undergoing a significant transition. First to be precise we must consider where along the course of the tendon does the problem exist. This may be in one of three main areas:

1. Insertion
2. Musculo-tendinous Juncture
3. Non-insertional (main body of tendon)

While the term that most people use and that most individuals will search for on the web is “tendonitis”, most Achilles tendon problems could better be called a tendinopathy and more specifically a tendinosis and are a non-inflammatory problem of the tendon. Inflammatory cells are not found on microscopic examination.

Clinically there may be two differing entities in acute achilles tendinopathy:

Peritendonitis

o Inflammation in the tissue surrounding the tendon
o Often 2 – 6 cm above insertion

o Possible crepitus with long standing injury (paratenon with fibrin exudate)
o In chronic tendinopathy approximately 20% of the injured peritendinous area are scar forming myofibroblast cells.

Tendinosis
o Impairment of circulation with resulting damage to tendon structure
o Focal areas of tendon degeneration

Much future research and better understanding of these injuries is needed. In spite of the vagaries of scientific understanding of these entities a successful approach using training modification, stretching, strengthening and appropriate return to exercise may be undertaken. At this time there are few significant clinical studies with valid results for treatment. There is often disagreement on approach and much is likely to be changed in the future. At this point treatment and treatment recommendations for this problem remain an art practiced with varying degrees of success. When evaluating new research, it is hard to recommend major paradigm changes in thought and recommendations based on studies of fewer then 20 cases or even 50 cases.