Recover and Run: A Step-by-Step Guide to Returning to Running After Achilles Tendonitis

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Running Injury
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David Dack

Looking for practical tips to help you get back to running after Achilles tendonitis? You’ve come to the right place.

Achilles tendonitis is a common condition among runners, characterized by pain and inflammation in the Achilles tendon—the band of tissue that connects the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to your heel bone. This overuse injury often results from the repetitive strain and stress that running places on the Achilles tendon, making it a frequent issue among runners.

But here’s the deal: recovering from Achilles tendonitis can be tricky, making it easier said than done to return to logging those miles.

No need to worry, though.

In this article, I’ll share with you the exact step-by-step process to get back to running after Achilles tendonitis. By following the guidelines below, you can expect to gradually and safely rebuild your strength and endurance, returning to running with confidence and a lower risk of re-injury.

Sounds like a plan? Let’s dive in.

Understanding Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis happens when your Achilles tendon, that tough band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone, decides to throw a bit of a tantrum. It gets all inflamed and achy, and boy, does it love to make its presence known.

You’ll usually feel it as some discomfort or straight-up pain at the back of your heel. And it’s got a special knack for showing up when you’re in motion, just to keep things interesting. Oh, and let’s not forget that delightful morning surprise—ouch!

It’s A Common Injury

Running involves repetitive motions, especially during long-distance runs and uphill training sessions. These repetitive actions can place significant stress on your Achilles tendon. Additionally, inadequate warm-up routines, wearing improper footwear, and dealing with biomechanical imbalances can all contribute to this condition. Recognizing and addressing these factors is essential for runners looking to prevent Achilles Tendonitis.

How do I know if I’m ready to start running again?

Well, the answer lies in how your body feels, especially when it comes to discomfort, soreness, or pain.

Let’s break it down into a simple guide:

Eligible to Progress Running

  • If you had no joint soreness after your last running session, that’s a good sign. You’re on the right track.
  • Likewise, if you experienced some joint or tendon soreness after your last run, but it magically disappeared by the next morning, you’re in a good place to move forward.

Stay with the Same Amount of Running

  • If you wake up the “morning after” your run and your soreness level rates at a comfortable ‘3 or less’ out of 10, or it’s just a mild level of soreness, you can stick with your current running routine.
  • Another scenario to maintain your current mileage is if you had some joint or tendon soreness for 24 hours after your last run, but it has since eased.

Regress the Amount of Running

  • However, if you find yourself dealing with joint or tendon soreness that lingers for more than one day after your last run, it’s time to take a step back.
  • Similarly, if your “morning after” soreness rates higher than ‘3 out of 10,’ or it’s a moderate level of soreness, it’s a sign that you should reduce your running intensity.

Remember, it’s essential to listen to your body and let it guide your running journey. Don’t rush things, and pay close attention to how you feel after each session. Your comfort and well-being come first.

Things To Check For

Before you even think about lacing up your running shoes, there are some essential checks to do. Don’t worry; it’s not rocket science, just a few simple steps to ensure you’re ready to hit the road pain-free.

First things first, let’s talk about ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. What’s that, you ask? Well, it’s how far you can flex your ankle by bringing your knee over your toe on the injured limb. Try it out and see if you can achieve end-range ankle dorsiflexion without any pain. If you can, that’s a good sign that you’re on the right track.

Next up, we’ve got ankle plantarflexion strength and endurance. This one’s a bit easier to check. Stand up straight, then go up and down on your toes. See if you can do this movement for more than a minute without any issues. If you can, that’s another positive sign.

Now, let’s talk walking. Can you walk pain-free on different surfaces? That includes flat terrain, going up stairs, or tackling a hill. If you can do all of these without any discomfort, you’re making great progress.

But hey, if you can’t quite check all these boxes just yet, don’t fret. It’s essential to stay active even if you’re not quite ready to log those miles without pain. Consider low-impact cardio alternatives to keep up your cardiovascular fitness while giving your Achilles tendon the time it needs to heal.

Return To Running After Achilles Tendonitis

Let’s talk about getting back to running after Achilles Tendonitis. You’ve gone through the initial stages of dealing with this condition, and now it’s time to ease back into running, step by step.

I’ll break down the recovery process into three key stages, starting with the first stage.

First stage – The Injury Period

The injury period is a time that demands patience and discipline. Research indicates that this stage typically lasts for two to five weeks, and during this time, patience and discipline are your best allies. While it might seem a bit dull, remember that resting is a crucial part of your journey back to full strength.

During this phase, make resting your injured limb a top priority. Embrace the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) as your daily routine to find relief and support the healing process.

If you’re eager to stay active, consider cross-training as a way to maintain your fitness levels without putting extra strain on your Achilles tendon. However, here’s a golden rule to keep in mind: if any activity causes pain, it’s a clear sign to avoid it.

What’s more?

I’d recommend that you perform some form of gentle mobility exercises to promote blood circulation and aid healing without exacerbating the injury.

Here’s a sample regimen:

  • Ankle Circles: Sit comfortably and gently rotate your injured ankle in a circular motion for 2-3 minutes, twice a day.
  • Toe Taps: While seated, tap your toes up and down to enhance circulation. Perform 3 sets of 10 taps, 2-3 times a day.
  • Ankle Pumps: While lying down, flex and point your toes. Perform 3 sets of 10 pumps, 2-3 times a day.

Second Stage – The Dynamic Work Period

During the second stage, aim to shift your focus from resting to engaging in gentle yet impactful exercises. This stage typically lasts for about three weeks and introduces a variety of dynamic drills designed to acquaint your Achilles tendon with controlled impact.

Incorporate drills like hopping exercises into your routine, where each hop represents a step toward building resilience. Strengthening and mobilizing the injured area take center stage during this phase, with exercises like heel raises and foam rolling becoming your trusted companions. As you progress, aim to perform toe raises, engage in free hops, do jumping jacks, and gracefully execute backward lunges, all without experiencing pain.

Keep a close eye on your ankle’s flexibility and mobility during dorsiflexion (bringing your foot toward your shin) and plantarflexion (pointing your foot away from your shin). Once you can perform these movements without discomfort, you’re ready to advance to the final stage of rehabilitation.

What’s more?

As you transition to controlled impact exercises, it’s essential to follow a structured program that gradually increases the intensity. Here’s a sample regimen:

  • Heel Raises: Start with 3 sets of 10 heel raises daily. As discomfort reduces, gradually increase to 3 sets of 15.
  • Calf Raises: Perform 3 sets of 10 calf raises daily, gradually progressing to 3 sets of 15.
  • Hopping Drills: Begin with gentle hopping in place, aiming for 2 sets of 10 hops. As strength improves, progress to forward and backward hopping.

Third stage – The Return To Running Period

In most cases, you can expect to make your way back to running within six to eight weeks, although the exact timeline may vary depending on the severity of your condition and your specific recovery plan.

Here are the key guidelines to follow during this stage:

  • Start incorporating running back into your routine, but do so gradually and at a slow pace.
  • If you experience pain during or after your runs, it’s crucial to back off or even halt your training temporarily.
  • Consider alternating between running days and rest days, or extend your rest days beyond your usual schedule.

Typically, it will take around two to three weeks to gradually build up your weekly mileage to match your pre-injury levels. However, keep in mind that this is just a suggested guide and not set in stone.

Every runner responds differently to this process, and each Achilles injury is unique. The key is to listen to your body and make necessary adjustments. You call the shots.

Here’s the plan you need to follow:

  • Week 1-2: Begin with brisk walking for 20-30 minutes every other day. On non-walking days, perform calf raises and heel raises to maintain strength.
  • Week 3-4: Transition to light jogging for 10-15 minutes, gradually increasing the duration. Continue calf and heel raises.
  • Week 5-6: Increase jogging time to 20-30 minutes and slowly incorporate short running intervals.

Prevention – Keeping Achilles Tendonitis at Bay

While recovering from Achilles Tendonitis is a crucial part of your journey, preventing it in the first place is equally important to maintain your running routine. Let’s explore key prevention strategies:

  1. Proper Footwear:

It all begins with selecting the perfect pair of running shoes. Look for ones that offer adequate arch support and cushioning. Your feet deserve the royal treatment!

Remember, shoes have a lifespan too. Plan to replace them every 400-500 miles of running or whenever you notice those telltale signs of wear and tear. Out with the old, in with the new!

If you have specific foot issues that demand extra TLC, consider orthotic inserts. These nifty additions can provide the additional support your feet crave.

  1. Gradual Progression:

The key to staying injury-free lies in saying no to overtraining. It’s crucial to avoid pushing your limits too hard or making sudden leaps in mileage or intensity.

Instead, embrace the “10 Percent Rule” as your new best friend. This rule advises against increasing your running time or distance by more than 10 percent per week.

  1. Strengthening and Stretching:

Make Achilles-specific exercises a part of your routine. Strengthening this tendon is crucial for resilience.

Don’t forget to perform calf stretches both before and after your runs. It’s a game-changer for improving flexibility and preventing issues.

  1. Warm-Up and Cool-Down:

Before you hit the pavement, make sure to:

  • Give yourself a proper warm-up to get those muscles and tendons ready for action.
  • After your run, show your body some love with post-run stretches and cool-down exercises to keep tightness at bay.
  1. Listen to Your Body:

Listen up! Your body has a lot to say:

  • Don’t brush off discomfort or pain in your Achilles tendon. It’s your body’s way of signaling.
  • If that pain lingers, don’t hesitate to seek medical advice. Your health is top priority.

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