The Achilles tendon is one of the crucial ligaments making up the musculature of our feet. But where did it get its name and where does the origin of the expression “my Achilles Heel” come from? To delve a bit into ancient Greek mythology, Achilles was a legendary warrior immortalized in Homer’s Iliad. He fought against the city of Troy (of the Trojan Horse fame) and apparently he was undefeatable in battle with had no known bodily weakness except that of his heel. He was eventually was slain by a rival warrior who shot an arrow directly into the back of said heel with the god Apollo guiding the arrow. Perhaps that’s when we say that a big bowl of ice cream is our “Achilles Heel”- we mean that it’s our biggest weakness!
Fast forward to the present day, the tendon that connects from between the two major calf muscles to the back of the heel bone is known as the Achilles tendon. We use our Achilles tendon to raise and lower our toes and to power any type of forward locomotion. Explosive movements in sports like jumping, sprinting, and diving all rely on this critical ligament for maximum performance.
However, because all this athletic activity can cause significant wear and tear in this area of the heel, the Achilles tendon can become inflamed with a condition known as Achilles Tendonitis. The arrow that took poor old Achilles out in ancient Greece may have been fictional, but an injured Achilles tendon is very real and can be painful enough to keep us from engaging in our favorite sports and physical activities. Indeed, it is one of the more common points of weakness and injury in our body.
Overactivity while jumping, walking, and running places stress on this tendon which can lead to small tears. Some common symptoms of Achilles Tendonitis are: physical pain, muscular stiffness, and tenderness when touched. Untreated, the tendon can become further thickened limiting your mobility and activity so it’s important to keep it flexible and injury-free.
Some of the best treatments for Achilles Tendonitis are just simple rest, icing, and massage. However, it’s always better to prevent this kind of injury before it even happens by using targeted stretches for the area of your foot and calf. Even if you’re not a sporty type, keeping your muscles and tendons flexible without tightness will only improve your physical comfort and ease while going about your daily activities.
Have a look at some of the stretches below. By performing them on a consistent basis for your Achilles tendon, they will help to both prevent tendonitis and aid in its recovery if you’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer from it. They're relatively simple to do and don’t require any investment in special equipment. Take your time, avoid rapid or hard movements and stop if you feel any pain. And with any torn muscle that’s causing you long-term discomfort, always make sure to consult with your medical practitioner.
Joel is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE and the founder of MoveWell. Joel founded MoveWell after sustaining an injury while running an ultra marathon on every continent. Joel is writes about mobility, pain management and health and wellness overall.