How to Prevent Achilles Tendonitis from Running

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about anything injury here on this show. And maybe that’s because I really haven’t been dealing with anything. Anytime I get injured I think, hey, I need to make a video about this and the things I’ve been going through.

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about anything injury here on this show. And maybe that’s because I really haven’t been dealing with anything. Anytime I get injured I think, hey, I need to make a video about this and the things I’ve been going through. But it came to my attention that I really haven’t touched on this in a long time, and more importantly, one of the most common running injuries, Achilles tendonitis, we want to talk about that today, and how to prevent it.

Of course if you haven’t been with me before, this is a show I call Runner’s High. I’m Jesse Funk and we talk about everything running. In particular, today we’re going to talk about preventing Achilles tendinitis. There are a lot of different kinds of tendinitis. And we can get those, really susceptible to those as runners because tendinitis is often, not always, but often the case of overuse. And what do we do? We do the same thing over and over and over. That’s literally our entire sport, is doing the same thing over and over again. So, we’re really susceptible to this.

Now, Achilles tendonitis, in particular, we can be particularly susceptible to because we are running and we’re using that Achilles tendon repeatedly and it’s sustaining a lot of impact when we’re hitting the ground. So, there are a lot of things that you need to check, you need to do. But if you do them, you’re pretty much going to be good to go. They’re of course, the curative side, we’re not going to get into treatment quite in this video. But let’s stick with, here’s the thing that you could do to prevent the issue in the first place.

Number one should not come as a surprise to you. And if it does, you definitely want to hit subscribe, stick around with me on the channel because you haven’t heard me say it enough, and that is build your mileage slowly. Don’t go too fast. When we’re going to overload our systems, something’s probably going to go wrong. And the reason it goes wrong is we don’t have enough time to recover. Now, I mentioned it before, in other videos again on this show, comes out Tuesdays and Thursdays, is that your tendons take longer to adapt to change than your muscles do.

So, while you might be getting stronger, you might be getting faster, it takes a longer time period for those tendons to get stronger to deal with how much stronger your muscles are getting. And through that lengthening process, or that long process of your tendons getting stronger, you have the ability, or the tendency to push too hard too fast because you think, hey, muscles are getting faster, I’m getting stronger, let’s just keep going. And when you don’t rest, then the weak link can break. And that is often going to be the tendons because your muscles can recover. Your tendons again, take much more time to repair. So, build your mileage slowly.

Along with that, though and because in particular, we’re doing the same thing over and over again, we’re going out for a run, you need to strengthen your muscles, in particular, your calves. So, you need to spend time doing calf strengthening exercises. Now, I’m not just talking about calf raises. There are other things you can look into that involve balance, where maybe it just means you’re going to stand on one leg and just stand there. How long can you do that? There’s other exercises you can do where you’re like hopping back and forth. Just look for single leg balancing exercises.

What you’re trying to do is strengthen all of the little muscles that control the minor motor movements of your foot. So that, in the case of running, what can often lead to injury is that not your major movers are an issue. So, your calf is going to be a bigger muscle or the two muscles in your calves really. But they’re going to be a bigger muscle compared to all the little muscles that can control the fine movements of your feet, which is how we make turns and things like that. So, when you’re working on those balancing exercises and straightening your calves at the same time, you’re trying to make sure that all those little muscles don’t get fatigued too easily.

Because when we build too fast as in, you know the number one suggestion I made, build slowly, but when we build too fast, sometimes those little control muscles, they get fatigued out. And when they get fatigued out, we begin to adjust how we’re running. When we adjust how we’re running, that load from the running gets placed on to something else. Sometimes that means that we’ll get shin splints or the major mover like our calves will get hurt. But it can also mean that we can get that load onto our Achilles and our tendons, and they start to pick up stress that they really shouldn’t be getting. So, if you do all those strength exercises, you’re helping reduce the risk that you get an issue down the line.

Now, it wouldn’t be my show if I didn’t tell you this one, number three, and that’s get good shoes. Now, again if you’ve been on the channel, you know this, but I worked in a shoe store for three years, roughly, full-time fitting people for shoes, both runners and people with medical conditions. Having good shoes is such a ridiculously easy thing to do that solves a lot of problems. There are obviously the people that suggest we should be barefoot and there is some efficacy to that in certain uses.

I recently spoke with Steven Sashen, the owner of Xero Shoes, where they -- on the Smart Athlete Podcast, another show I do on this channel. And Xero Shoes is focused on making shoes that are basically minimal. They’re minimal covering minimal cushioning made for a variety of uses. Now, I think that it has a place and I walk around barefoot a lot of the time. So, I probably would have pretty good use for some shoes like Steven makes, but I don’t run in that.

And so my personal philosophy is that those kind of shoes work for some people, and they don’t work for others. But along with that is that I’m running in urban environments, so streets, sidewalks, a little bit of grassy patches. And because of, I’ll say a maladaptation to life, not to get too deep there. But really, because we don’t have adapted feet to run on pavement, to run on cement, we need some kind of cushioning. The people that run barefoot successfully, often, not always, but often are going to be on softer surfaces more of the time. So, that’s something to keep in mind. But getting good shoes, something that fits well for you, is the correct size, is the correct shape for your foot; all of those kinds of things is a no brainer on how to prevent some things like Achilles tendinitis.

Separately, if you do have an issue with one of your Achilles being too short, or a leg length discrepancy, something like that, a doctor would diagnose you on that, and they would help you get heel lifts of the appropriate size. So, if you’re constantly having issues with this, go to a doctor, see what they say. It may not be that, it probably isn’t. But that is a kind of minor technicality of something that can be fixed relatively easily by putting a lift in your shoe. Don’t take my word for it, though, you’re going to need a doctor to tell you that’s the issue. You can’t just go and put lifts in your shoes, that can create a whole slew of other problems. But just so you’re aware of it.

So, on to my next tip. And this kind of goes along with what I just mentioned about running on softer surfaces, and that is cross trained. So, spend time doing things other than running to give yourself the ability to recover. So, when I shoot these videos, it’s on the one day of the week that I still get back on the bike and do some work on the bike. I’m getting aerobic fitness in. Sometimes, like today, I’m getting like sprint kind of work in. Working on those parts of my body, my fitness that can help me run, but I’m avoiding the pounding of running because I’m often on pavement.

Another guest I was recently speaking with on the Smart Athlete Podcast, Hilary Spires, she’s a trail running coach now. We were talking about her kind of like mileage limit, because she gets into these long, long races, things I’m just not interested in particularly for my kind of racing. I like short and fast, 10K and under. But we’re talking about the differences in our mileage, whereas right now I’m running 40-ish miles a week over four days. And then she’s running what can be like 60 to 70 miles I think a week. Excuse me. And what she says is a lot of it has to do with how she’s spending time on trails. And that softer surface, as mentioned earlier, allows her to run more miles. If she was going faster like I am and on pavement like I am, then the threshold for mileage is typically going to be lower.

So, the same kind of idea applies. You want to either be on softer services to allow for more recovery time. Or when you cross train, you’re still getting aerobic fitness in. But you’re allowing your body to recover from the pounding that you put in when you’re out on the pavement, out on asphalt; all these kind of hard surfaces, which is mitigated by those good shoes that we had. But it is not going to be the entirety of what you probably need, especially if you’re following number one, build slowly.

So, if you’re interested in listening to either my conversations with Hilary or Steven on the Smart Athlete Podcast, stick around. They’ll be popping up on the screen shortly. But those are all my tips for preventing Achilles tendinitis. If you have any questions for me about running, anything you’re dealing with, leave them in the comments below. And those episodes, somewhere above my fingers or so, should be popping up. And I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.


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