Advice for Runners With Achilles Pain

Sometimes it happens…

You’re out on a run, enjoying the pace, you finally feel like you’ve got it in you to run a little further than you did last time, then all of a sudden OUCH! Something in your ankle doesn’t feel quite right…

So you slow down, give it a stretch and give running another attempt, but nope! Your ankle won’t have it, it’s just too painful…Sound familiar?

How to resolve ankle pain FAST, and get back to exercising safely within DAYS!!

Well, this is exactly what happened to one of my patients, Jody, a few weeks ago.

In March, Jody decided to take up running again because as well as walking her dogs along Rock Creek Parkway each day, she wanted to add in something different to keep active.

She started slow, running gently for 15 minutes a time every weekend and finishing off with a slow walk to cool down.

Gradually over the weeks running felt easier, so she decided to pick up the pace one weekend and run for a few extra minutes uphill until all of a sudden OUCH! Shooting ankle pain came out of nowhere and Jody hasn’t been able to run since…

In fact her ankle pain has been so bad that she hasn’t been able to get out and run for a whole 6 weeks – which feels like a long time when you’re missing out on doing something you enjoy!

In an ideal runner’s world, (and not just runners this applies to people who enjoy walking too!), every step of every mile would be one hundred percent pain-free.

No aches, no twinges, no lingering soreness from yesterday’s activity, but the reality is, this is one of the most common problems I see people who enjoy to run or walk long distances suffer from.

Here’s the thing we’re not designed to run and walk up hills for long periods of time, and nor do we need to!

Sure you might work a bit harder by running up a hill, but this is adding huge stress to your ankle and Achilles tendon by doing so.

Of course if you’ve got an event coming up that involves a lot of steep hills, just like the route for DC Rock and Roll Marathon, then doing this type of activity would likely help you achieve that goal, but let me explain why it’s likely to do more harm than good:

Think of your Achilles tendon as an elastic band, when running or walking up hills this elastic band gets stretched too far. The Achilles tendon connects the two major calf muscles to the back of the heel, and under too much stress the tendon tightens and becomes irritated which is why you feel pain each time you go to run, or even walk up the stairs!

This is not an injury to run or walk through. If you catch a minor strain early, a few days off might be sufficient healing time, but if you keep running as usual, you could develop something more serious that may even take up to six months to go away!

So what’s the number one thing to do right away if you’re suffering from this pain right now, or if it strikes?

Complete rest for a few days and lots of ice!

Swap your footwear for soft, comfy shoes, there’s no need to strap your ankle up or wear supports, just apply ice. I recommend applying ice for 10 minutes each hour if possible.

After 2-3 days I’d begin some deep massage and very gentle stretching and work on the ankle joint to prevent any stiffness or get rid of any swelling.

My top tip: If you’re going to walk or run up hills (because sometimes these can’t be avoided), stand as tall as possible and spend a month before you start running using a balance ball, core and pilates exercises to make your back and ankle strong so that you can safely do it and avoid this happening to you too!

Enjoy running and understand your body well and how it functions!

Trupti Mehta, PT, MS, OCS

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