Achilles Tendonitis

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.

Bruised Heel Injury

Pounding the pavement (or a similarly hard surface) is often a sizable part of an athlete’s training, and as a result, the heels of the feet take plenty of abuse, bearing the weight of the entire body. Unfortunately, the heel is protected only by a small pad of fat, and repetitively landing on the heels can cause this pad to ride up on the side of the heel bone, leaving it unprotected.

Not surprisingly, this causes pain in the heel. You might also notice bruising or dark spots on the bottom of your heel; those are due to capillaries that have ruptured because they are no longer protected by the fat pad that is normally on the underside of your heel.

Athletes most at risk of a bruised heel are those who put repeated strain on their heels, such as from high-impact activities like martial arts, basketball, football and running. A bruised heel likely will heal on its own; you should rest until your heel no longer feels painful. Also, if you’ve run more than about 400 miles in your running or athletic shoes, replace them to make sure your heels are getting the cushioning you need. If your shoes aren’t old enough to warrant replacement, add heel cushions to your shoes to pad your heels.

If the pain doesn’t dissipate after a few days, or if you think your heel pain might be due to another condition, such as plantar fasciitis, see a doctor. He or she can diagnose the cause of your heel pain and help you get back on your feet as soon as possible.