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Symptoms and treatment of Achilles tendinitis
Check out Meg’s magical concoction that got her through Houston Marathon training
Let us know what’s worked for you in the comments
The information provided in or through this website is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. Please consult your doctor or physician before beginning any treatment.
It had been nearly 5 years since I found myself with any sort of injury. Sure, I had the occasional annoying pains here and there, but such is the life of a long-distance runner. Nevertheless, it was nothing that prevented me from lacing up every morning.
That was until December 2022, when I found myself with a bout of Achilles tendinitis, a nightmare injury for runners. Persistent and limiting, it’s an injury that falls into the same bucket as other deadly curses like plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, and high hamstring tendinitis.
As with most running injuries, it was your typical overuse case. I raced a half marathon and tried to squeeze in a workout two days later before leaving for a trip to Austin. Soon after, the pain and discomfort in my Achilles started, and– like most delusional runners– I decided to keep running on it.
Eventually, the pain and discomfort were enough that I had to take several days off. I rarely take consecutive days off, so I can assure you the pain was real. I started back up using the Lever, an adjustable harness device that essentially turns your home treadmill into one of those anti-gravity treadmills you find at a physical therapist’s office. I posted a photo to Instagram expressing my gratitude for the machine. Almost immediately, people were messaging me with suggestions on how to treat Achilles tendinitis.
One of those messages was from Ben Johnson; it was an article he had bookmarked after going through a similar injury and coming through the other side. In short, the article recommended a ridiculous concoction of gels and creams rubbed into the Achilles, then wrapped securely with cling wrap (e.g. Saran® Wrap). Oh, and this is done right before you go to bed, so you you’re basically sleeping with a mummified leg.
Like any desperate, injured runner in the middle of marathon training, this plan sounded perfect. So I immediately tracked down the ingredients and wrapped my leg overnight. Me typing that sentence out still sounds just as crazy as the first time I tried it.
How did it turn out? I’ll get to that in a second (okay, it worked), but before we go forward, let’s get a general idea about Achilles tendinitis and its symptoms to see if you might fall into the same injury camp as myself.
Achilles tendinitis is a condition that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the Achilles tendon, which is the large tendon that connects your heel bone to your calf muscles. With most runners, it’s usually caused by overuse of the tendon, and is often a result of repetition over time.
Before we get into it, it’s important to note that the below symptoms can vary in severity and may worsen over time if left untreated. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention to determine the best course of treatment.
Stay tuned until the end for my magic concoction. But it’s important, especially in the early acute phase, to use my method in conjunction with the below recommendations to ensure a quicker recovery.
We already mentioned this at the top, but let me say that this is in no way medical advice and you should consult your doctor before attempting, as one of these ingredients is a prescription-strength medication.
Anyway, after Ben sent me his advice, I went to bed that first night with a witches’ brew of gel, cream, and plastic wrap around my leg (stay to the end for the full recipe). I had my doubts, but I was willing to give anything a shot with a goal marathon around the corner.
And wouldn’t you know it, I woke up the next morning and my Achilles was feeling better than it had in weeks. Weeks! It wasn’t fully healed, but it was a lot better. I kept this nightly wrap routine going for about a month leading up to the Houston Marathon, and come race day, I had almost no discomfort.
After the marathon, in addition to the nightly wrap, I started an exercise routine of leg and heel raises which I did about three times a day. This seemed to be the winning combination; one day I just woke up with zero pain of any kind. It was like Christmas morning and I haven’t had any issues since, running an average of 70 mile weeks.
I reached out to Dr. Leo C. Kormanik II, a Certified Chiropractic Sports Practitioner (CCSP) to find out if I was completely delusional, or if this elixir had some legitimacy.
“Voltaren is used as a topical anti-inflammatory. I like to use it in cases of tendinitis since it is topical and doesn’t run through the liver or kidneys at the same rate as oral anti-inflammatories,” Kormanik noted. “For an area like the Achilles (some of the poorest blood flow tissue in the body) the Arnica really helps to pull blood to the area since it has been shown to increase circulation.”
I’m sure you’re wondering if the cling wrap was just a ludicrous addition or an actual benefit, so I asked about that as well.
“Good lipophilic (fat loving) lotions have been shown to hang around the applied area longer. Voltaren and a good arnica solution will be lipophilic and thus will not rub in easily since it will cross the skin membrane slower. The Saran wrap keeps the lotion on the skin so socks and pants do not rub it off. Secondarily, the Saran wrap quickly heats up the area since it cannot breath normally. The increased blood flow as a reaction is obviously an advantage to an area like the achilles. Blood flow brings healing.”
I think it’s safe to say the Achilles wrap is legit, but, if you’re not ready to go all-in, Dr. Leo C. Kormanik II offered up some more traditional solutions as well:
“With acute achilles scenarios KT taping can help to provide external support to the tendon and off load some of the stress. Avoiding traditional stretching and adding in foam rolling or voodoo wrapping of the tendon can help as an alternative to traditional stretching. For acute cases, I also advise people to ice once a day before bed by soaking the whole foot and ankle in cold water for 20 minutes just before bed and before the routine of cling wrap, etc.
“In cases of chronic achilles irritation, using a Jill Cook method of tendon holding can be of benefit to bolster the size of the healthy fibers. Contrast bathing can also be of great use here– ten minutes of deep heat on the tendon followed up by ten minutes of intense cold,” noted Dr. Kormanik.
“KT recovery wave is also beneficial. The PEMF (pulse electromagnetic frequency) has been shown to speed up healing of damaged soft tissue. It is also imperative the athlete get treatments like dry needling and/or cupping, to help speed up the healing of the damaged fibers.”
That’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for you. If you want to give this concoction a try, keep reading to get the full rundown of the treatment.
Will this work for you? I can’t guarantee it, of course, but if an Achilles tendinitis does crop up a couple weeks out from a race, this quick-fix will hopefully be enough to get you to the start line and across the finish.
Questions? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
Good luck and good riddance to Achilles pain!
Meaghan signed up for her first marathon three weeks before the race, because it was $10 more than the half she planned to run. She learned everything in running the hard way. Now a USATF & UESCA certified run coach, she loves encouraging friends to go for big goals as she continues to chase faster times. She enjoys a hot cup of coffee, a cold martini, and making bagels for friends and family.More from Meaghan