The 8x300m training on Tuesday had me hobbling down the stairs in pain the next morning, bracing myself against the wall to minimize the weight I’d have to put on the left foot. Needless to say, the left achilles tendon was giving me a lot of trouble again.
Traditionally, over the course of the past ten years or so this is the point where I went on an extended break from athletics. Nowadays, I look back at training logs or GPS history from the months following achilles tendon trouble and am surprised that there is often no evidence whatsoever of athletic activity for weeks, maybe even months. While this passive approach might make some or all of the inflammation go away over time, it’s also easy to lose fitness and speed and basically ensure that I rarely reach ambitious goals. Basically, the achilles tendon is slowly improving while I watched the gains I worked so hard for over the previous months vanish.
Instead, I sat down the next morning and asked myself: “are you really doing all that you can to improve things?” All too often, it’s easier to admit defeat and feel sorry for oneself while not actually doing anything pro-active that might help make the problem go away faster.
So I decided that this time around, I’d try and make a better effort at fighting back. What follows is a break-down of the different methods that I’ve used, and intend to use more.
Electro muscle stimulation
Over the last couple of years, I’ve already experimented with using my old Compex electro muscle stimulator on the achilles tendon, running in low-intensity “Capillarization” mode to hopefully increase blood circulation in the affected area. It’s not a miracle cure, but it always feels like it’s doing some good; especially if I’m diligent about using it for about an hour a day. I used it for a total of 100 minutes on Wednesday (four 25-minute sessions).
Eccentric heel drop exercises
I also made it a point to do the exercises outlined in a Runners Connect article that prescribes regular use of flat-ground eccentric heel drop exercises to treat Insertional Achilles tendonitis.
See a doctor
Finally, after a long-lasting refusal to go see a doctor because of past experiences, I decided to make an appointment so I could get a professional opinion.
I was lucky enough to get an appointment the next day. The doctor diagnosed an “enthésite achille” (as far as my non-medical translation skills go, this seems to correspond to the English usage of “Insertional Achilles tendonitis”) and also sent me to get an X-Ray to rule out anything more serious (like a heel spur). Again, I was lucky enough to get this done on the same lunch break without either an appointment or a large wait at a local hospital.
Compression, cold and taping
In the evening, instead of merely plopping down in front of the TV, I got a large plastic trash can and filled it with cold water. I submerged the foot (the water went up over half of the calf as well) for ten minutes, and then later repeated this procedure once more. I’m hoping the cold and also the compression effect from the water will assist in further reducing the inflammation.
I’ve also started experimenting with kinesio tapes. While medical studies seem inconclusive on whether there’s much proven benefit, I’ve seen some positive effect not just when wearing the tape throughout the day but also during night. I suppose what helps at night is the compression effect of the tape that prevents the achilles tendon (and soleus muscle?) from going into its shortest possible position (toes pointed down, away from the body); which in turn means when I get up in the morning I feel less of that painful unstretched effect.
Of course none of the items outlines above are miracle cures. But if I can keep up all of them over the course of a few weeks (or better still, make them baseline habits for as long as I want to live an athletic life) the combination of several small factors will hopefully not just make my current troubles go away, but also assist in keeping them from coming back during future endeavors.