The Achilles tendon is the name of the thick fibrous band that attaches the calf muscle, or the gastrocnemius muscle, to the heel bone. It is one of the thickest tendons in the body. When the calf muscle contracts, it shortens and pulls on the Achilles tendon. This action results in pushing the foot downward. We use our Achilles tendon in this manner when pushing off during walking, running, and jumping.This action of the Achilles is also what we use to walk on our tip toes.
Due to the amount of strain that we put on our Achilles tendon during activity, it is especially susceptible to injury. In fact, there are over 200,000 Achilles tendon injuries in the US per year and it is thought to be the third most common site of tendon rupture. The most common conditions experienced are Achilles tendon ruptures and Achilles tendonitis.
Stretching before exercising and not overdoing workouts are two important ways to prevent Achilles tendon injuries. If injury does occur resting the affected tendon, medications to prevent inflammation, and physical therapy will assist in the road to recovery. However, if the injury results in a severe enough tear, surgery is often required to reapproximate the tendon.