If you’re a sports fanatic, perhaps a runner or tennis player, chances are you may have experienced soreness or tension in your Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon connects the gastrocnemius and the soleus, basically your calf muscles, to your heel. When these muscles become tight from overuse or the lack of stretching, the tendon is at risk for a major sidelining injury. To help prevent this, the MayoClinic.com website recommends stretching your calves and the tendons daily. Strengthening exercises should also be done in conjunction with the stretching, but only if you’re free of pain.
Sample Stretching Exercises
Grab a lightweight towel, sit on an exercise mat and try this gentle stretch. Extend your legs straight out in front of your body. Wrap the middle of a towel around the balls of your feet and hold the ends of the towel. With your knees and back straight, use the towel to slowly pull your toes back toward your shins until you feel a stretch in the back of your ankles and calves. Hold the stretch five seconds, release and repeat 10 times.
Try wall stretches. To begin, place your palms on a wall at shoulder height and stand an arm's length away. Take a staggered stance with your right foot forward and left foot back. While keeping both feet flat on the floor and your left knee straight, bend your right knee slightly and lean in toward the wall. You'll feel a stretch in the back of your lower left leg that might go right down to your Achilles tendon. To stretch the soleus muscle, stay in this position and slowly bend your left knee. Try to keep your back heel down. Dr. Ben Kim recommends holding the stretch 30 seconds and then switching legs.
Combine stretching and icing if you are experiencing a sore Achilles tendon. Sit in a sturdy chair and stick your foot in a large bucket filled with ice water. Podiatrist Brian Fullem recommends wedging your foot against the side of the bucket with your toes pointing up to treat the soreness and stretch your tendon. Hold the stretch for one minute, rest and repeat five times.
Sample Strengthening Exercises
Strengthen your calves with seated calf raises. Sit in a sturdy chair and scoot your butt toward the edge of the seat. Bend your knees 90 degrees and put your feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your heels and raise them as high as you can without lifting your toes off the floor. Hold the position 10 seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat. Do two sets of 10 raises. To increase the intensity, hold and rest a dumbbell across the top of your knees.
Tippy-toe your way to stronger calves and ankles with toe walks. Simply rise up onto your toes and start walking. Mike Behnken, an accredited personal trainer, recommends walking on your toes for 30 seconds, taking a short rest and then repeating two more times. Once you gain strength in your calves and ankles, try skipping on your toes.
Strengthen your calf and Achilles tendon with a resistance band. Sit on your exercise mat and extend your legs straight out in front of you. Loop the middle of your band around the balls of your feet, bend your ankles and flex your feet back. Grab the ends of the band and wrap them around your hands until you feel some resistance in the band. Slowly point your toes forward against the resistance, pause and then return. Do two sets of 10 reps twice a day.
- Ask the Trainer: Best Foot and Ankle Exercises for Men and Women
- MayoClinic.com: Achilles Tendinitis Prevention
- Dr. Ben Kim: How to Prevent and Treat Achilles Tendonitis
- Running World: Owner's Manual: Treating and Recovering from Achilles Injury
- Runner's World: Seated Calf Raise - Strengthen Calves
- Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma: Physical Therapy Corner: Eccentric Training for Treatment of Achilles Tendinosis
- Before doing any stretches or exercises, do a five-minute warmup to get your blood flowing and increase your flexibility. An easy-on-your-Achilles warmup might include riding a stationary bicycle or pedaling on an elliptical machine.
- If you feel any pain while doing the stretches or exercises, stop and consult your doctor.