The All Important Achilles Tendon

The All Important Achilles Tendon
Christine L. Foutch Naturopathic Physician Rock Island, Illinois

Christine Foutch is a practicing Holistic Physician in Rock Island, Illinois, specializing in Holistic Nutrition and Biomechanics. Holistic medicine is the art and the science of healing that addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and alternative therapies... more

The importance of the strength, as well as the flexibility, of the Achilles Tendon is unquestionable. This tendon withstands a lot of stress when performing the actions of running, jumping, and even walking. Whether these movements are performed for everyday activities or during the athletic performances, the Achilles tendon is vulnerable to tendonitis, tear, and rupture.

If the Achilles tendon becomes completely torn or ruptured, the abilities of the leg for running and jumping can be lost for an extended period of time. A tendon rupture generally will require surgery and the incapacitation of the ankle for weeks or even months.

The Achilles tendon can be referred to as the Heel Cord or the Calcaneal Tendon (referring to the latin word Calcaneus or Calcaneum). It can also be referred to as the Heel Bone. The Calcaneus is the largest of all the Tarsal Bones of the feet. It is very well suited to accept the impact of the heel strike during walking or running.

Just like all the other tendons in the body, the Achilles tendon connects the muscles to the bones. Of all the Plantar-Flexor muscles, however, the Gastrocnemius, and the Soleus muscles are by far the strongest -- capable of producing about 80% of the total Plantar-Flexion torque at the ankle.

Research has shown that the execution of the Push-Off-Phase for even just the act of walking in healthy individual requires about 70% of the maximal effort of the Plantar-Flexion-torque-capability for the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus muscles. This is a surprisingly high torque demand for a task that is so common and relatively easy.

You will find that located within the back of your lower leg, the Achilles tendon begins. It is in close proximity to the middle portion of the calf. The tendon receives the muscle-fibers on its inner surface. With the insertion going onto the middle portion of the Calcaneus, your heel-bone once again. The tendon spreads itself out at its lower end with the narrowest part of the tendon about 4 cm (about 1.6 inches) at the point above its insertion onto the Calcaneus(Heel-Bone). The tendon is covered by Fascia (a thin, filmy sheath of connective-tissue) and Skin; with the Achilles standing noticeably behind the heel-bone. This gap that is formed there, between the tendon and the heel-bone is filled up with some loose connective tissue called Areolar-Tissue and Fat.A Bursa, which is a small-fluid-filled-sac; lies between the tendon and the upper portion of the Calcaneus-bone. The Bursa is acting for the function of a cushion.

Inflammation of the Achilles Tendon is called Achilles Tendinitis

Tendinitis is the inflammation of the tendon-sheaths. These sheaths are the thin films of connective-tissue that allows for the sliding motions that occur between tendons.

Unfortunately, anyone can develop an Achilles tendon injury; as they are often associated with repetitive stress and prolonged use. The risk factors for Achilles tendon injuries can include 

  1. Wearing the wrong shoes while exercising
  2. Exercising on an uneven surface
  3. Increasing the intensity or the amount of an exercise
  4. Starting a new sport
  5. Bone Spurs on the heel that rub against the tendon
  6. Tight muscles of the calf

Achilles Tendinosis refers to Chronic Tendinitis, which is when there is more damage to the tendon at the cellular level. It is thought to be caused by micro-tears within the connective tissues that are surrounding the tendon.

What can be done to prevent the injury?

  1. Wear the correct shoes for the activity
  2. Warm-up before the exercise or the activity that involves repetitive movements
  3. Increase the activity slowly, a gradual progression
  4. Do not exercise on the uneven surfaces
  5. Stop the activity if and when it causes pain