According to a well-known Greek myth, the god Achilles was impervious to the arrows of his enemies—except for his heel, which proved to be his downfall. This part of the anatomy can also prove to be a problem for athletes who participate in sports that demand a lot of jumping, starting and stopping, such as tennis, basketball or running up and down hills.
That’s because increasing this kind of activity too quickly, or doing too much, can lead to Achilles tendinitis, also commonly known as Achilles heel. Your Achilles tendon attaches the muscles that run down the back of your calf to your heel bone, and it can acquire small tears that inflame the tendon.
Achilles tendinitis can cause dull pain, swelling and stiffness in the heel, which may seem to feel better immediately after you start moving, but then worsen again as you continue the activity such as running or jumping.
Basic at-home remedies, such as rest, compressing the heel and taking anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, help Achilles tendinitis heal in the majority of cases.
But if the tendinitis isn’t going away, if your heel makes a crackling noise when you touch it, or if you can’t bend your foot towards the ground, you may have ruptured the tendon, and you should see your doctor immediately. He or she will examine your foot and may use magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to evaluate whether your heel pain could stem from another injury.
If you do have Achilles tendonitis, your doctor may suggest you add extra support to your shoes, since the condition also can result from over-pronation, in which the feet have flat arches. You may also need to use crutches or a supportive boot to take pressure off of the heel. In the most extreme cases, surgery might be needed to snip off the enflamed tissue surrounding the tendon.
To prevent a recurrence of Achilles tendonitis, make sure you increase your activity level gradually, and that you stretch the tendon and your calf muscles regularly to keep them pliable. Using these tips, Achilles’ downfall doesn’t have to be yours.