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10 tips to Bulletproof your Achilles

Thanks again to Daina Clark (Senior Podiatrist and Bootcamp Instructor) for this article on how to Bulletproof your Achilles.

achilles_tendon insideTrail running is fantastic, out in the fresh air amongst the trees, rocks and scrub. What is less fantastic though are running related injuries. Running is a highly repetitive movement, involving large forces, applied through our legs approximately 90 times per minute. As a result our Achilles tendon are subject to massive loads, up to six times our body weight. It is little wonder then that as a runner you are 10 times more likely to have an Achilles tendon injury than your non running friends. Plus if you were born the wrong side of 1990 you are at an even greater risk of a debilitating Achilles injury. Middle age or more specifically connective tissue ageing is associated with a decrease in the elasticity of tendons and means us oldies are even more susceptible to injury with a reduced healing capacity to boot!

Achilles tendon injuries are one of the most severe in terms of the amount of training and racing time lost as a result of the injury so prevention is definitely better than a cure

Here are 10 measures we can take to bulletproof our Achilles and stave off injury.

  1. Gradually increase your training load by 5-10% per week. Increased frequency and duration of training have been associated with Achilles tendinopathy.
  1. Avoid excessive hill training as this is a killer on the Achilles – make sure hill training is no more than 5% of your weekly running volume
  1. Don’t neglect the importance of slower paces for recovery and endurance runs. Athletes who train close to race pace and neglect active recovery with slower training runs are more likely to develop Achilles injuries.
  1. Limit the time spent running on softer surfaces as this can increase stress on the Achilles. Avoid sand running if you feel even the slightest twinge in your Achilles.
  1. Strength – recent research showed that injured athletes have reduced calf strength compared with uninjured runners. Therefore maintaining strength is key. Incorporate twice weekly single leg calf raises, 3 sets of 10 in mid range to keep those calf muscles strong.
  1. Add skipping to your routine. Another study showed runners with unilateral Achilles injuries had significantly reduced leg stiffness, ie the leg bent more, during hopping on the injured side compared with the uninjured leg. Once a week jump some rope for 5 minutes to get those legs less floppy.
  1. Make sure your shoes fit well and are comfortable. This is a no brainer but it is worth mentioning as it has been shown to reduce running related injury rates.
  1. Keep your waist measurement under 83cm if you’re a male. Achilles tendon pathology is highly associated with central fat distribution in men. Studies have shown that the probability of Achilles tendon abnormalities is 74% higher in males with a waist circumference more than 83 cm. You might think surely fat is just fat blubber but adipose tissue is now recognized as a major endocrine organ that releases bioactive peptides and hormones that directly modify tendon structure making it weaker and prone to injury.

Changes in oestrogen levels in peri menopausal women can also alter the tendons structure and it’s ability to repair, so it doesn’t hurt for women of a certain age to also keep their waist measurements below 80cm to bullet proof their Achilles.

Now as an Adventurethoner I am sure you have abs of steel with no excess abdominal fat at all. But just in case you’re carrying extra around your middle it might be worth shifting those love handles to help avoid tendon damage.

  1. Avoid over striding. The large braking force associated with over striding is incredibly hard on the Achilles. If this is you seeing a Podiatrist or Physio for some gait retraining to reduce the braking forces and rapid loading rates could be super beneficial.
  2. Don’t go overboard on the stretching. The research on stretching has been slowly changing over the last few years, where once it was the gold standard of treatment now it’s benefit to injury prevention is a major point of conjecture. What you definitely don’t want to do is over stretch a painful tendon ~ especially as we get older and become less elastic.Best bet is to avoid the aggressive calf / Achilles stretch that involves dropping your heel off the back of a step and if you feel the need to stretch just make sure you do it nice a gently.

So there you have it, 10 simple tips to keep your Achilles strong and you running pain free!

Train Smart. Run Strong

Daina Clark

 

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