Achilles, son of Peleus and Thetis, was the mightiest of Greek warriors and hero of Homer’s Trojan War. In an attempt to make Achilles impervious to injury, Thetis dangled Achilles in the river Styx. Unfortunately, she held on by the large tendon at the back of his heel leaving this large powerful tendon vulnerable.
This large tendon can withstand great amounts of force, however when it is injured it can cause walking to be quite painful. Factors leading to Achilles injuries are many. Abnormal rotation of the rear foot called pronation, repetitive activities including running and cycling as well as activities that require rapid starts, stops and jumping (basketball, baseball, jump rope) are just some of the possible causes. This injury is slow to heal ( heel, ha-ha) due to the poor blood supply.
Prevention includes gradual progression into any activity combined with proper foot wear. Adequate flexibility and strength are also key factors. This includes not only strengthening the muscles of the foot and ankle but also the muscles of the trunk and upper legs to avoid placing too much stress on the Achilles.
Here’s a sample Achilles strengthening plan.
1) About 10 minutes of gentle cardio vascular warm up. I really recommend a non-weight-bearing activity such as cycling.
2) Stretch gently by leaning into the wall with one foot behind you, keeping the heel down. You want to keep your feet straight ahead and curl your toes to stabilize the foot. Hold 30-60 seconds, 3 times each leg with the rear leg straight and 3 times with the rear knee bent slightly.
3) Perform simple calf raises, rising up onto the toes and lowering very slowly to a count of “4 Mississippi”. 3 sets with 30 seconds rest between each set. Try not to hang on to anything but be close for safety. The kitchen counter works well.
4) Progress as follows: Week 1- Raise on both feet and lower favoring the stronger foot. Week 2- Raise and lower evenly on both feet Week 3- Raise on both and lower with more weight on one foot. Week 4- Raise on both and lower only on one foot.
Progression to the next level should only be done when the exercise can be performed without pain during or after exercise. This includes soreness in the day or two after exercise. These should be done in a pain-free range of motion. If we all did this regularly Maybe we could be one step closer to the invulnerability that Thetis was trying to give to her son.