Updated: Jun 4
Achilles tendonitis can be a tricky condition to treat, and it usually takes more than 12 weeks to fully recover from it. It’s no wonder that many runners are worried that they will get it again. Here are some things you can do to minimise the risk of re-injuring your Achilles tendon through running.
The terms tendinitis, tendonitis, tendinosis, and tendinopathy mean the same thing for all practical purposes, and we use these interchangeably in most of our articles.
In this article:
Here's a video I made about this:
Learn from the past
Injury sucks, so make sure that you at least learn something from it to apply going forward. Identify why your Achilles flared up in the first place. Did you make a mistake with your training schedule? Should you have listened to your body and allowed more recovery time? Did you increase your training intensity too quickly?
Make a note of what you find, so that you can make the right decision when you’re faced with the same situation again.
Strengthen the Achilles properly
When you have Achilles tendinopathy, the tendon changes its structure, it loses some of its spring-like properties, and its capacity to cope with the forces created by running drops.
You have to rebuild the tendon’s strength before you go back to running. Otherwise it may cope with a few runs, only of the injury and pain to return.
You’ll notice that I included the word “properly” in this heading. It’s not enough to be able to do 3 sets of 10 heel raises and then go back to running. When you run, forces of between 3 to 6 times your bodyweight go through the Achilles tendon! So, your Achilles exercises have to be built up to a high intensity/volume to strengthen the tendon to cope with this type of load/force from running.
Slow return to running
Forget what you used to be able to do. You will be able to get back to it eventually, but you first have to find out what type of training schedule your Achilles is ready for at this moment in time.
It’s not just about doing less distance, it's also about allowing more recovery time and making sure you keep the intensity low at the start. If you get this right, every running session you do will help to strengthen your Achilles tendon further. If you ramp it up too quickly, the opposite will happen and you may injure it again.
Analyse your training: Volume, intensity, frequency
I know a lot of runners just enjoy running and never pay attention to speed, intensity, etc. – they often just run on feel. This is fine, but the problem is that you may not realise how quickly you’ve increased your training volume or intensity if you don’t find an easy way to log it.
Achilles tendinopathy is an overuse injury which occurs if you push your volume or intensity of training up too quickly or if you don’t allow enough recovery time after very intense sessions. To avoid recurring Achilles pain, it’s vital that you find an easy way to look back on your training of the previous month(s).
Most fitness trackers already provide all of this information in an easy-to-view format. If you’re doing low training volumes, the research seems to suggest that it could be safe to increase your training by around 20% per week. If you’re doing high training volumes, it seems to be safer to increase it by no more than 10% per week.
In my experience, high-intensity sessions are more likely to cause Achilles irritation, and they are often difficult to track. What counts as high intensity for the Achilles? Hill running, speed sessions, and track sessions all work the Achilles hard. So make sure that you allow enough recovery time after these types of run, and don’t squeeze too many into one week.
Watch out for periods of rest/breaks from training
You know how you sometimes blink and a whole month has gone by where you couldn’t manage any consistent training? It could be that you had a bad cold, travelled for work, or just couldn’t be asked to go out in miserable weather.
Periods of inactivity or decreased activity will mean that you lose some of the strength in your muscles, tendons, etc. – if you don’t use it, you lose it.
This means that if your Achilles (and the rest of your body) was able to cope with x volume of training four weeks ago, it may now only have the capacity to handle three quarters of that volume. Because its capacity to cope with the training load has decreased, you will have to ease back into training and take a few weeks to build it back up again.
How we can help
Need more help with your Achilles injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at TMA online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.
We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine. But at Treat My Achilles we don't just value qualifications; all of us also have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports, ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.
About the Author:
Cook J, Docking S. “Rehabilitation will increase the ‘capacity’ of your …insert musculoskeletal tissue here….” Defining ‘tissue capacity’: a core concept for clinicians. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015;49(23):1484-85. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-094849
Murray NB, Gabbett TJ, Townshend AD, et al. Calculating acute:chronic workload ratios using exponentially weighted moving averages provides a more sensitive indicator of injury likelihood than rolling averages. Br J Sports Med 2017;51:749-754.