The Achilles tendon is a major and vital tendon running along the backside of each leg and attaching the calf to the heel. The Achilles is both the thickest and strongest tendon in the human body and is paramount to almost any foot or leg movement like running, jumping, or walking. Because of the body’s nearly constant reliance on the Achilles, it is also very prone to severe injury. If you are a sports fan, you have likely seen an Achilles injury occur in an athlete who lands wrong or plants their foot incorrectly during an intense movement. Improper stress exerted on the tendon can cause it to tear or pop free partially or fully. It is tremendously painful and oftentimes requires surgery and thorough rehabilitation in order to regain full movement and strength of the tendon and by extension the foot, ankle, and leg. If you suffer an Achilles injury, no matter how severe, it is important to choose the correct form of rehab exercises in order to safely strengthen the tendon, regain its full range of motion, and avoid further injury or setbacks.
How Can You Rehab an Achilles Injury?
The rehab exercises for a ruptured or torn Achilles tendon follow the same model used for most tendon or muscle injuries. They should start slow and with very little resistance and gradually ramp up over time in both range of motion and resistance involved. This allows the Achilles to strengthen slowly without getting re-aggravated. Motion will be difficult following an Achilles repair so the key is to start by teaching it basic motions all over again and then re-strengthening with weights further down the line.
If the Achilles injury is severe enough to require surgery the heel may remain in a cast for some time. Exercise is out of the question during this period. Even once the cast is removed, only light stretching should be done. Heel flexes without resistance bands should be the starting point to regain some motion in the tendon. A therapist will typically help lightly pull the toes toward the body to stretch the tendon very gently. At this stage, even light walking is off-limits until some strength is back.
As the rehab moves forward more weight and resistance can be added to the routine. The goal of Achilles rehab is to eventually begin walking and running with normal motion and speed. That means that eventually, you need to add this walking motion to the stretching and weight training regimen. Doing so in a pool is the safest method of Achilles rehab. The water creates a zero gravity environment so that you can maintain a full range of movement but with almost no impact on your feet or legs. Each week will bring an increase in the speed of the walking exercises. A couple of months into the rehab you will be ready to add resistance to the stretching exercises in the form of resistance bands. Loop one around the foot and hold the band in your hands then slowly move the foot forward and backward. This is similar to the heel flex but the bands add difficulty and help strengthen the tendon while maintaining the range of motion you have been working to regain. Heel raise exercises accomplish the same thing. By standing on an exercise box with the heel hanging off the back you can dip up and down on the arches of your feet using your body weight to stretch and strengthen the Achilles.
An Achilles injury is a serious and painful one to overcome. It is hard to appreciate just how important this little tendon is to everyday life until we no longer have use of it. However, with patience and a slow progression through rehabilitation exercises even the most severely injured Achilles tendon can be made as good as new again. Just remember to start very small and do not rush yourself into even simple tasks like walking until you have trained the tendon to regain its normal motion and strength.
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