The Achilles tendon is a band of tissue connecting your calf muscle to your heel. It lets you stand on your toes, spring into a run, and jump. It’s the longest, strongest tendon in your body.
The Achilles tendon gets its name from Achilles, the mythical Ancient Greek warrior who got super strength from a dip in the river Styx when he was a baby. His mother held him by his heel as she dipped him into the river, so his heel didn’t get the super strength of the rest of his body.
This is also where we get the expression “Achilles heel” — that one weakness we can’t get over is our Achilles heel.
For some athletes, the Achilles tendon might be an Achilles heel. The tendon has relatively little blood supply and many sports ask a lot of it. It’s most likely to be injured at the beginning of a movement, such as the start of a sprint or a jump.
This kind of movement can cause a tear or rupture of the Achilles tendon. You’ll often hear a tear if you experience this injury. A complete rupture of this tendon must be treated with surgery or complete immobilization of the tendon. Recovery can take some time.
The Achilles tendon can also be injured more gradually through running, participation in active sports, or even from wearing high heels for a long time. This can show itself as tendinitis (also sometimes called tendonitis), which is inflammation and pain in the tendon. Proper stretching of the tendon before exercise can help prevent injury. In addition, hydrating well on a regular basis helps prevent injury to muscle, ligament and tendon. Pain in the tendon can be treated with rest and ice.
Another condition that can affect the Achilles tendon is tendinosis, which is a thickening of the tendon. This can be the long-term result of sports participation, but it may also be the result of aging. The tendon becomes inflexible and weak, so it is more vulnerable to injury.
An examination of the Achilles tendon can involve a number of physical tests, or it may require an MRI or ultrasound. Treatment may mean a cast, surgery, physical therapy, or a combination of these methods.
Minor Achilles tendon injuries may be treated at home, but it’s important to be sure that your injury actually is minor. Visit your primary care physician to be sure.