Preventing Achilles Tendon Injuries

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David Beckham’s Achilles tendon injury is a reminder especially those beginning a new exercise program to practice preventive techniques to avoid one of the most common ailments that can sideline even the best intentions.

The Achilles tendon is a fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel (calcaneus) to the calf muscles in the lower leg. It is the thickest and strongest tendon in the body and enables actions such as walking, running, jumping and standing on the toes. Approximately 230,000 Achilles tendon injuries occur each year in the United States.

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For the general exerciser, the most common injury is Achilles tendinosis, tiny tears in the tissue in and around the tendon. Physicians may also use the terms tendinitis or tendinopathy. Injuries can be caused by overuse or repeated movements, sudden increases in training, being out of shape or not warming up, misalignment (unequal leg length or over/under pronation), improper footwear, or accident or trauma (ie: falling).

Symptoms of Achilles tendon problems include swelling in the ankle area and mild or severe pain that usually comes on gradually or worsens when running or walking. There may also be less strength and range of movement in the ankle.

To prevent Achilles tendon injuries, AchillesTendon.com offers the following advice:
• If you are obese, older, have a chronic health condition, or have not exercised in a while, it may be best to check with a physician before beginning a new exercise program.
• Begin slowly and build time, distance and speed gradually. Most injuries occur because of a sudden increase in physical activity without appropriately building up strength and endurance. Always warm up before an intense exercise, and cool down by gently stretching the muscles.
• If you are unfamiliar with a move or a piece of workout equipment, ask for help from a trainer so that you perform the exercise appropriately.
• Wear appropriate footwear for your particular foot. Each person has their own bio-mechanics, such as arch height, bone and muscle structure, leg length, and pronation of the feet. The wrong shoe can lead to an increased risk of injury. An experienced athletic shoe salesperson can help.
• Exercise regularly. Staying in good shape is one of the best ways to prevent an injury. “Weekend warriors” are most prone to injury because they are relatively inactive during the week, with a sudden burst of activity on weekends.
• If you are a runner or walker, spend as much time as possible on a soft surface, such as a dirt or grass trail, rather than concrete. Of course, ensure the surface is not too soft – a muddy terrain for example can cause just as many injuries.
• Be sure to eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. All of these indirectly affect your ability to focus and perform an exercise appropriately.
• Listen to your body and take a rest day when appropriate. Muscles get stronger as a result of the exercise/rest cycle, but will not have time to build if they are constantly in action. Building the calf muscle is particularly beneficial for the Achilles tendon.
• If you do become injured, seek appropriate medical help promptly. Rest, ice, physical therapy, and a gradual return to activity is recommended. Doctors advise against anti-inflammatory medications for Achilles injuries because tendinosis is a degenerative injury, not inflammatory, and the drugs may mask the problem, causing a worsening of the problem.

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