Your Achilles tendon is short, but it’s strong. It stretches just from the back of your calf to your heel. Its job is to help you walk. In fact, whenever you move your foot, you’re using your Achilles. So if you injure it, just about any kind of activity could be a struggle, from walking and running to climbing stairs and even putting on shoes.
There are a few levels of Achilles injuries. Most of them happen when you put too much stress on the tendon and don’t allow it to recover and heal. One such injury, Achilles tendinitis, is inflammation of the tendon. It usually doesn’t last long -- if you treat it properly and rest it.
If you don’t, tendinitis can turn into Achilles tendinosis. This is where the tendon develops tiny tears and starts to break down. You might not have any pain, but you might feel a bump in the tendon as you move your ankle around. It can also happen for no apparent reason, even if you’re not overdoing it.
Why Do Achilles Injuries Happen?
Some of the top reasons include:
- Sports. If you suddenly get more involved in a sport where you run, jump, start, stop, and change directions suddenly, you’re raising your risk of an Achilles injury. You see this a lot with “weekend warriors.” Those are athletes in their 30s and 40s who might not work out regularly or be used to playing a certain sport. Soccer, volleyball, running, gymnastics, and cycling have the highest rates of Achilles tendinitis. Ruptures are most likely to happen in tennis, basketball, and diving. (Men are 6 times more likely than women to have Achilles problems).
- Changes in footwear or playing surface. Even if you’re a regular on your soccer team or have been doing tennis drills for years, your Achilles could act up if you switch shoes or start playing on a different surface.
- Calf tightness. This could be caused by playing a new sport or activity, or from not stretching enough. It puts pressure on the Achilles and could lead to injury.
- Heel bone spurs. These can rub against the Achilles and cause tears in it. Doctors call this Haglund’s syndrome.
- Falls/missteps. If you step into a hole or fall from a high place, you could rupture your Achilles.
- Flattened arches. These force your Achilles to do extra work when you walk.
- Steroid injections. If you’ve had a steroid injection in your ankle for an injury, this could weaken the Achilles and make it more likely to rupture.
- Some antibiotics. Drugs in like Cipro and Levaquin can cause the tendon to break down.
- Other conditions. Chronic renal (kidney) failure, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, thyroid disorders, collagen deficiencies, and diabetes can weaken your Achilles and increase your risk for injury.