Damage to the Achilles tendon is common. It can be painful, and make exercising or even walking difficult. Stretches can help to accelerate healing and improve mobility.
In this article we describe briefly a few examples of suggested Achilles tendon stretches. We also explain how to help strengthen the calves and provide some advice to get back to fitness following an Achilles tendon injury.
Causes of Achilles tendon pain
The Achilles tendon runs down the bottom of the leg. It connects the heel bone to the muscle of the calf, and helps raise the heel off the ground as a person walks. Doctors may also call it a cord on the heel.
Common Achille tendon injuries include:
- Achilles tendon rupture: Sometimes jumping, falling, running or tripping can tear ones tendon. After a sudden sharp pain or “pop” in the back of the leg, symptoms may include swelling in the area between the heel and the calf, as well as difficulty walking and standing on tiptoe. Someone suspecting a tear of the Achilles tendon would talk to a doctor because they will likely require medical attention.
- Achilles tendinitis: The tendon can get inflamed or irritated by overuse or injury. Symptoms include early morning swelling , pain and stiffness in the back of the leg. With activity the pain usually gets worse
Both conditions may be disturbing. Rehabilitating fitness programs, during the recovery time, will benefit people.
Achilles tendon exercise examples
As part of the recovery process the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and the National Health Service ( NHS) recommend the following Achilles tendon stretches and exercises. Besides loosening the Achilles tendon, by lengthening the attached muscles they can help to reduce the stress on it.
Experts recommend that people perform the stretches under a physical therapist’s guidance first.
People can perform this exercise by following the steps below:
- Stand on both feet with the legs straight.
- Use the uninjured leg to rise onto the tiptoes.
- Keeping both feet on the floor, transfer the weight across to the affected leg and lower down, using the good leg to help if necessary.
- Repeat. Aim for 3 sets of 15 repetitions, twice a day.
If the exercise becomes too easy, a person can make it more difficult by bending the knees. Once they have mastered this, they can try performing the exercise on one leg at a time.
Bilateral heel drop
The set of movements for this exercise is as follows:
- Stand on the edge of a stable raised platform, such as the bottom step of a staircase.
- Carefully adjust the position of the feet so that just the front half of each foot is on the step. It should be possible to move the heels up and down without them hitting the floor.
- Carefully rise onto the tiptoes then lower both heels as far as possible.
- Repeat 20 times.
Single heel drop
The drop in the single heel is similar to the drop in the bilateral heel, but it places all the weight of the person on one leg. Only when they are comfortable doing the bilateral heel drop, should a person try this exercise and start finding it easy.
Achilles stretching tips
People should be very patient and step slowly when performing stretches of Achilles.
The exercises will feel awkward but as time goes on they will become easier. And anybody who feels discomfort when stretching will stop and speak to a physical therapist.
If anyone has mastered the exercises, when carrying small weights or using a weighted rucksack, they will continue to do those. The additional weight will help fortify the muscles of the tendon and calf.
How to get back into exercising
Anyone with an Achilles injury will first rest his leg and use an ice pack to relieve the swelling. Afterwards, the easiest way to get back into exercise is to wait until it isn’t painful and handle it slowly.
Although recovery can differ among individuals, rerupture prevention is usually the goal of the first 2 months. People usually focus on improving calf muscle strength during the third month. Rehabilitation aims to help a individual return to sport over the next 3 months.
Rehabilitation can involve, apart from stretches, lighter exercises such as walking , jogging, cycling, or swimming.
People will typically start light jogging within 3–6 months of an Achilles rupture, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. They remember, however, that getting back to sports that require pivoting or jumping can take longer, often 6–9 months. Some people find it takes over a year to come back to full strength.
In a 2016 case study, it took a female basketball coach 14 months to fully recover without surgery from an Achilles tendon rupture.
Calf strengthening exercises
Individuals can reduce stress on the Achilles tendon by stretching out the calf muscle. The following calf muscle stretches and exercises will help strengthen the calves, according to the NHS:
The wall push
To perform a wall push, people should follow the steps below:
- Face a wall, standing about an arm’s length away from it.
- Put both hands on the wall at shoulder height.
- Take a large step backward with the right foot. Keep the back straight.
- Press the hands into the wall and both heels into the floor.
- Feel the stretch in the right calf.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Bring the right foot back in toward the body, switch sides, and repeat.
Standing calf stretch
This stretch involves the following movements:
- Stand facing a wall and place the foot of one leg against it with the toes pointing up and the heel on the floor. The higher the toes are on the wall, the deeper the stretch.
- Keep the other leg behind the body with the toes facing forward and the foot flat on the ground.
- Lean forward, keeping both heels on the floor.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Resistance band calf exercise
To perform this exercise:
- Sit on the floor or on a bed, and extend the legs straight out in front.
- Wrap a resistance band or bit of fabric around the ball of one of the feet.
- Keeping the knee straight, pull the toes up toward the nose until there is a stretch.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 5 times on each leg.
The Achilles tendon is in the lower leg back, which links the muscle of the calf to the bone of the ankle. Ruptures in the tendon of Achilles and tendinitis in Achilles are common and sometimes painful.
Stretching the tendon will help people recover from the damage to the Achilles tendon by loosening the cord in the heel and increasing mobility. Experts advise people to be careful when tendon stretching. This can also support those who have sustained an Achilles tendon injury by strengthening the calves.
Anyone who feels they might have torn the Achilles tendon or notices the pain is not getting better over time should talk to a doctor.