What’s with the pain in my Achilles?

So you’ve been box jumping, double undering and running. And then you see the better, faster athletes doing those “bouncy” box jumps…and they are so much faster! So you give them a crack. They’re pretty shaky at first and you may have lost some skin off your shins but man, they allow you to go FASTER in the WOD, shaving valuable seconds off your time. So you just keep on doing them. Then one morning you wake up and your achilles is a bit stiff, so you hobble a bit. But only for the first few steps. So you ignore it.

A few weeks goes past and you start to notice that your achilles is now stiff every morning when you get out of bed. Your calves are feeling a bit beaten up and it’s taking a bit longer to warm up for those running or double under WODs. You start to do a bit of rolling out of the ol’ calves and notice that your achilles is pretty damn sore to touch. So you avoid it all together….don’t want to make it worse, right?!

Another few weeks passes by and you’re now avoiding any jumping or running movement. WTF is going on? Your achilles is P*ssed at you. That’s what’s going on. And then you remember all those ‘bouncy’ rebounding box jumps that you started doing a couple months ago, without much consideration into how much force you were subjecting your poor achilles tendon to.

Most likely, you’ve given yourself a (un)healthy dose of achilles tendinopathy. Too much loading through the tendon has annoyed the crap out of it and now your body has basically decided to lay down more connective tissue in the tendon. More tissue = more blood vessels = more nerve endings = pain. This is a simplified version of what tendinopathy is – a physiological response by the body to increased demand in an area. This type of thing happens in other regions of the body, think tennis elbow, patellar tendinopathy, etc.

In the achilles, the mechanism is usually a weakness of the calves (soleus and gastrocnemius) as they contract eccentrically. Eccentric muscle contraction is what occurs as the muscle is lengthening. This is in opposition to a concentric muscle contraction, in which the muscle is shortening as it contract. So, in the case of achilles tendinopathy, the calves are weaker in a lengthened position (as the heel is lowering). This places additional stress onto the tendon, resulting in tendinopathy. Other factors that can lead to achilles tendinopathy include pronated (flat feet), poor biomechanics with running/jumping, inadequate footwear, sudden increase in volume of training (lots of rebounding box jumps, double unders, etcl), previous injury to the ankle or foot, inadequate warm up/cool down, tight/weak calf muscles and decreased ROM of the ankle.

So first things first, stop box jumping and running and doing things that aggravate that achilles. Get yourself booked into see your favorite physio (preferably one that does Crossfit) or other health practitioner and get diagnosed properly. There are a couple of other issues that can affect the achilles (such as retrocalcaneal bursitis, Severs, ankle impingment or a tear) so it’s always important to get the right diagnosis. Make friends with your roller and show your calves some love. Part 2 will show you some exercises to get you back on track.