Your Achilles tendons connect the calf muscles of your lower legs to your heels. Although they are the strongest tendons in your body, they are easily injured because they are subjected to an immense amount of strain and force from your powerful leg muscles and the weight of your body when you walk, run or jump. You can prevent the Achilles tendon from holding you back–as it did the Greek hero–by massaging, stretching and strengthening it.
Massage is a beneficial and often overlooked form of exercise therapy that will help heal your heel. The most common reason that an Achilles tendon becomes injured is because it does not receive enough blood flow; it can handle less than the muscle it connects to. Massage is a gentle form of exercise that increases blood flow to your tendon.
The American Chiropractic Association recommends you begin your rehabilitative exercises by massaging your Achilles with your hand. Starting from your heel and working up your ankle, use your thumb and your pointer finger to squeeze and release both sides of your tendon. Use an amount of pressure that is comfortable for you, and continue massaging your Achilles by running your thumb up and down the back of it for a few minutes.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons advocates stretching as necessary form of exercise to heal your Achilles. Stretching this tendon will increase its flexibility, strength and range of motion, because putting a healthy strain on the tissue will stimulate your body to repair it.
You can stretch your Achilles tendon in a standing or seated position. Stand on a stair or step with the injured foot, so that the ball of your foot is on the step and the heel of your foot hangs down. Gradually lower your weight into your heel and press down until you feel a stretch in your Achilles, keeping your leg straight. Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds. If you are seated, straighten your leg along the ground and flex your foot. Use your hands, along with a towel or belt if necessary, to pull back on your toes until you feel your Achilles stretching. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
To completely rehabilitate your Achilles tendon, you also must strengthen the muscles that surround and support it. The website Everything About Achilles Tendons recommends an exercise that concentrates on strengthening this problem area without further aggravating it.
Stand on both of your feet and use your hands to hold on to a wall or piece of furniture for balance. Raise yourself up to standing on only the balls of your feel, “on tip-toe.” Shift your weight from both feet to only your injured foot. Then slowly lower your heel down, keeping your knee straight. Repeat this exercise a few times at first and gradually build up to doing more, listening to your body so that you do not push yourself too far.
About this Author
A freelance writer based in San Francisco, Ann Bartkowski began writing professionally for the New York State Department of Heath in 2006 as a science educator. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Bates College. Bartkowski has published hundreds of articles for LIVESTRONG.COM about nutrition, exercise, the environment and health.