Dear Dr. Burk:
I am a runner and jog several miles a day. I’ve been running for many years, but in the past year, started having pain in my lower leg. My doctor said that I have tendonitis in my Achilles. He told me to cut down on my running and use ice on the area where I have pain. But I’d like to continue daily running. What else can I do to fix this problem?
Jim C, Boise, ID
It sounds like you may have injured your Achilles tendon, which is common for runners and athletes. Pain from this type of injury usually feels like a burning sensation in the calf muscle. If the pain is severe, you may have partially torn or ruptured your Achilles, and need to stop running until the tendon is healed. If the pain is manageable, you can keep running and continue to put ice on your calves at the end of your runs.
As a disclaimer, I am not giving you a medical diagnosis, since I have not yet seen you in person. I am just offering my advice based on the little bit of information that you’ve given me. Here are my recommendations.
- Do the eccentric heel drop stretch. This is an exercise which gently strengthens the Achilles and increases your range of mobility. A lot of doctors will just tell you to do more stretching of the calf muscles. But most calf stretches will do more harm than good since they tug on the damaged tendon fibers. There is a good video here of the heel drop stretch. You will see that it is a slow and gentle exercise. Repeat this stretch ten times for each foot once per day. Avoid any other calf stretches for the time being.
- Be careful when you are beginning and ending your runs. Quickly speeding up or suddenly slowing down puts pressure on the Achilles. I would avoid doing any hard sprints or other rigorous sports until the Achilles tendon is healed.
- Do some foam rolling of the calves. This is a gentle exercise that will loosen up your calf muscles without putting pressure on the Achilles. Here is a good video on foam rolling.
- Do a contrast bath once per day after your run. This involves using two buckets, one filled with hot bath water, and the other with ice water. Submerge both of your lower legs into the cold water for 5 minutes, and then into the hot water for 5 minutes. Repeat again and end with the cold-water soak. This will help blood rush in and out of the calf muscles which will help the healing process.
I hope this answers your question and will give you some help with your Achilles tendonitis. Pay close attention to how your calves feel when you wake up every day, and if the pain is not diminishing, take a break from running. An Achilles tendon injury should not be taken lightly.
At Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle, we often use regenerative medicine in treating foot and ankle conditions, including tendonitis. This involves implementing either one of many soft tissue therapies to speed up the healing process, reduce pain, and bring back full functionality in a relatively short period of time.
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