Healing Our Achilles Heels

Achilles Heel

What a year 2020 has been, huh? One curve ball after another has all of us learning the art of being flexible and accepting change. One of the changes I had to accept in the name of COVID safety measures was the cancellation of numerous running races I was scheduled to compete in. Though pretty small in the big picture, we endurance athletes still had to grieve the losses of those races.

For me personally, I made the decision to pretty much shut down any serious training over the summer in order to preserve precious energy and also spend time doing some other things. Normally, when I’m in full training mode, I’m logging 50-60 miles a week which includes a longer endurance run and a couple key workouts. During the months of July and August, I averaged 16 miles a week with no workouts. I was also sitting and snacking more which added a few extra pounds.

On September 7th (Labor Day) I decided to run a virtual 5k that my wife Shelley was taking part in. I wasn’t planning to run it all out but I still wanted to get the legs turning over faster than I had the previous couple months. Unfortunately, I broke a few of my own guidelines that I’m normally preaching to runners I coach.

First of all, I got very little warm-up before we started. Second, I decided to wear some racing flats I hadn’t been wearing the previous couple months. These mistakes combined with all the sitting and lack of training created a “perfect storm” that led to some nagging Achilles tendonitis in my right foot that I’m still rehabbing 7 weeks later.

In my 12 1/2 years of running, I had never dealt with an Achilles injury this severe. I’ve had other injuries through the years but nothing that lingered quite like this one. I’ve heard stories of others dealing with Achilles issues but never realized how much of a booger they can be! Thanks to my extreme persistence, tireless research, and much prayer for wisdom, I feel like I’m getting a little better each day. I was able to log 52 and 60 miles the past couple weeks and this week I’m headed toward another 60 miles with very little pain.

One thing I’ve learned is that injuries can be great teachers. There are so many lessons to be learned from the injuries we experience. They force us to slow down and evaluate our bodies on a deeper level. Like many, I’m guilty of sometimes taking my healthy days for granted. When we pick up an injury, we’re suddenly motivated to learn everything we can about that specific injury. We’re also dedicated to the necessary rehab it will take to overcome the injury and strengthen our weak areas.

As with many injuries, I’ve learned there are no “quick fixes” for my stubborn Achilles. Over the years, I’ve also learned there are no “get fit quickly” schemes.

Whether it’s wealth or fitness, it takes hard work to get results that last. Deep down, we all know this and yet we still try to find a magic pill or shortcut to help us achieve results without the necessary sweat equity. Wouldn’t it be great if we could gain fitness as fast as we lose it? How about losing those stubborn pounds as quickly as we gain them? In my experience, if something sounds too good to be true…it probably is. Nothing worth having comes overnight.

What is the “Achilles heel” you’re currently dealing with?

 

For those also dealing with a stubborn Achilles tendon, here’s a protocol that seemed to help speed my own healing process. Though I’m not a doctor, I am a “mad scientist” of sorts in terms of experimenting with various nutrition and training methods…

  • “Ice Dipping” – Fill a bucket with ice and water high enough for the Achilles to be submerged. Then “dip” your foot into the bucket for 30 seconds before taking it out for 10 minutes. Repeat this 8-10 times. I use the timer on my phone while getting cozy with a book or movie. This process allows blood to rush back into the foot/Achilles area similar to a cold/warm therapy. The Achilles tends to be more stubborn due to the poor blood flow in that area. This is a simple way to encourage more blood flow.
  • Graston Technique – My wife has been performing this technique on my Achilles/calf twice a week for 5-7 minutes and I have no doubt that it’s helped me enormously. We use coconut oil as the emollient and the handle of a butter knife as the tool. Again, the idea behind this is to encourage more blood flow to the injured area. Here’s a short video that demonstrates the technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hn8jPv2ofM
  • Stretching/Foam Rolling – Since the Achilles tendon attaches to both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calf, it makes sense to stretch these muscles daily. Tight calves will lead to unnecessary strain on the Achilles. To stretch the gastroc, keep the leg you are stretching straight with your heel on the ground behind you. Hold this for 30 seconds before gradually increasing over time to 3 minutes. For the soleus, do the same thing except bend the knee while keeping that heel on the ground and leaning gently forward. Just get a nice easy stretch rather than forcing a harder stretch. As for the foam rolling, spend 1-2 minutes after your workout rolling each calf (inside, middle, outside) and feeling for any tight spots.
  • Continue Activity – Though I did back off on mileage right after my injury, I still did some light running mixed with cross-training like cycling and elliptical. You still want to encourage some blood flow with “active” recovery rather than just sitting around. Just listen to your body and add a little more over time.
  • PerfectAminoXP Nightly Load – Normally, I like to mix one scoop of PerfectAminoXP powder with water before bedtime for added recovery. But while trying to overcome an injury, I do two scoops in order to throw a little bit more at the injury. When we sleep, our bodies release natural growth hormones which allows our bodies to be even more receptive to putting additional amino acids to work. (Interested in trying PerfectAminoXP? Use code HITZ10 for a discount)

 

 


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