If you’ve ever experienced problems with your achilles tendon, then you’ll be all too familiar with not only how painful but also how frustrating it is. It can render you unable to play your favourite sports, move efficiently at work, and even spend quality time with your family on your days off. Because achilles pain is a common occurrence among soccer players and active individuals, we thought we’d shed some light into exactly what’s going on, what’s causing it, and what you can do to prevent it.
Achilles pain at the back of your heel: What’s going on?
As a bit of background, our achilles tendon is a large and very strong band that connects the muscles at the back of your leg to the back of the heel bone. More than that, it helps you to efficiently take each step, point your toes to the ground and push off as you run for that ball in soccer.
Problems with the achilles tendon falls under multiple names – achilles tendinitis, tendinosis and tendinopathy. Despite their interchangeable use if you’re reading up about them online, these terms actually have different meanings:
- Tendinitis – this refers to the inflammation of a tendon, usually in the initial stages of overuse or injury
- Tendinosis – this refers to a non-inflammatory degeneration of a tendon, usually after the initial inflammation has settled and the damaged tissue remains
- Tendinopathy – this refers to the disease process of the tendon, and in the case of the achilles tendon, typically describes chronic degeneration of the tendon
You’ll first tend to experience pain and inflammation, and then just pain and reduced strength and function, depending on your level of injury. Levels of injury can range from irritation or micro-tears to partial tears and ruptures. The poorer blood supply to the achilles tendon means that these injuries tend to last longer and require more active recovery strategies to regain full strength and movement.
What’s the cause of achilles injuries?
Generally speaking, it’s the activities that load up and strain the achilles that lead to micro-tears and damage. This includes:
- Running and jumping activities
- Increasing training intensity and duration
- Tight calf muscles
- Abnormal foot biomechanics that exacerbate the pull on the calves and achilles
- Inadequate warm-ups
When it comes to soccer specifically, we must also consider the role that soccer boots play in developing achilles pain. Soccer boots have low-set heels, meaning your foot is kept quite close to the ground. This actually places greater strain on the achilles tendon compared to sneakers or regular shoes with a slight heel, and when combined with the high intensity running in a game of soccer, places you at a much greater risk at developing an achilles injury.
What can you do to help prevent achilles problems developing?
There are a few things we recommend to reduce your likelihood of injuring your achilles tendon:
- Have a good warm-up and cool-down routine, focusing on effectively stretching your calves and achilles tendon. This will work to reduce the strain on your achilles tendon during the game. Good preparation is key!
- Retrain your gait if you know you have some biomechanical or alignment issues with your feet or legs. If you’re unsure about the biomechanics of your feet and legs, consider getting it assessed by your podiatrist. If your feet and legs regularly feel sore and achy, it’s a good indication that this will be worthwhile for you.
- Don’t jump from low-intensity to high-intensity activity too quickly. If you’re just making the transition from casual to competitive soccer, ease into it. If you’ve taken a year off and are now just getting back into it, take it slow and don’t rush. You’ll thank yourself when you’re back to playing at full capacity with no pain or injury!
- Check your footwear. Regardless of whether you’re in our soccer boots or regular shoes, our footwear serves an important function to support and stabilise our feet. Having your foot supported and contained inside the shoe, when it’s a good, strong shoe, limits side-to-side motion of your foot and works to better control the steps taken, easing the strain on muscles and tissues including the achilles tendon.
- Prioritise stretching and strengthening daily. Aside from a pre-game warm-up, it’s also important to generally stretch and strengthen to maintain optimum function and strength of your lower limbs. By doing this daily, you are optimising your lower limb health and helping to reduce future injury. Eccentric loading is a great strategy that strengthens tissues while lengthening, helping you to absorb shock during the game and better controlling the motion at your heel.
- Don’t ignore niggles or minor pain. This is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to prevent major problems developing. Many soccer players will ignore minor niggles and pain in the hopes that it will resolve on its own. While this may be the case for some, for others, the injury will simply continue to worsen and then tendon will continue to degenerate until you have a much larger problem with a much larger recovery time.
Very importantly, don’t forget to have fun! If pain or injury is preventing you from enjoying yourself on the field, come in and see our expert team. Here at Sole Motion Podiatry, sports injuries are one of our specialties. We love helping patients get back on their feet and performing at their best. If you’re concerned about pain at the back of your heel or are not feeling 100% when playing soccer, we’d love to help. We’ll work to have you feeling great again as efficiently, safely and quickly as possible. You can book online here or give us a call on 1300-FX-FEET.