Achilles troubles and steps taken to alleviate them


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

Two large Compex electrodes on my left foot, with the Compex running in low-intensity “Capillarization” mode

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 “enth√©site 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.

Training log 5/Jul/2013

Hiking, Injuries

Friday was uneventful. During my lunch break, I walked to the fitness center (1.5km) and back (1.5km). At the gym, I did a variation of my usual program, and was glad to see that a gluteus exercise that I hadn’t been able to do well in over two months due to my hip issues was almost pain-free again.

After work, I walked to the hairdresser and back, for a total of 2km, therefore clocking a total of 5km of walking for the day.

Did quite a bit of Compex on the left achilles tendon, but it seems that electro-stimulation works better when the achilles tendon itself is sore, not the part where it connects to the heel (people on the internet seem to refer to this as “insertional achilles tendonitis”).

Training log Wednesday 03/Jul/2013

Hiking, Injuries

On Wednesday, I woke up feeling like I was back in the year 2000. Meaning, my left achilles tendon was acting up again, and I had trouble even just descending the stairs to the kitchen after getting out of bed. Memories of the surgery that I had on the tendon in late 2000 after a partial tear was diagnosed came back; but of course then and now are very different times.

With the car requiring another visit to the mechanic, I was looking at 4.5km of walking from the car dealer to work and back. The morning walk to work went OK, even if the first few meters were once again painful. During my lunch break, I walked to the fitness center and did my usual program; including eccentric calf muscle exercises I’ve been doing regularly for the past half year and that, prior to the latest achilles episode of the past few days, have worked in keeping any major pain at bay.

After work I walked back to the car dealer and drove home, once again without major pain. I had been toying with the idea of riding my stationary bike in the evening, but instead upon getting home I ate entirely too many comfort foods and called it a day.

Osteopathy and base building

Injuries, Training Log

On Monday, I had an osteopathy appointment. Following my 100m race on April 16th, I’d been dealing with a dull pain somewhere in the region of my left hip/adductor that flared up whenever I tried to sprint. It didn’t prevent me from running a half marathon or a 10km race in May, but even two months later I’ve still been unable to sprint faster than 80% to 90% of my normal speed.

So the osteopath found and fixed a misaligned hip and back and told me to take it easy for 48 hours. I did, almost. I went for a run tonight, some 47 hours after the appointment.

Quite a few book and blog authors I’ve been reading lately have been advocating more runs in an “easy” zone, and are saying that most runners do entirely too many runs in the “average” speed category but not enough going slow or going very fast. Right now is probably a good moment to include more slow running in my training because I’m clearly not fit for competitive running and could really use a decent base for any adventures I might encounter further down the line.

For me (age 35, maximum heart rate of around 186), I take “easy” to mean 140 heartbeats per minute or less. So that’s what I set out for tonight. Unfortunately, most interesting trails around here invariably go up at some point, and as soon as I climbed even just a few meters, my heart rate went higher than 140. So I felt like I had to go really slow to accommodate that upper limit, and even then I briefly reached a maximum of 158 when I took my eyes off my watch for a moment, and overall I only managed an average of 141 (rather than treating that number as a maximum).¬† In the end, I did 12.86km with an elevation gain of 263m and a pedestrian pace of 7:14 min/km. It will be interesting, however, to see how (or if) that number changes as I (hopefully) do a good and regular job of further building a base.