This is what an injured Achilles tendon feels like and how to protect yourself from injury

Man crouching down and holding his Achilles heel with his handsEvery time you walk, point your foot, stand on your toes or jump you use your Achilles tendon. It is the largest tendon in your body, connecting your heel bone to your calf muscle along the back of your ankle. Although you may be familiar with Achilles tendon injuries because you've heard of famous athletes experiencing them, anyone can injure this tendon. You don't need to be an athlete for it to happen.

What happens when you injure your Achilles tendon?

The tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel withstands a lot of stress every day. The Achilles tendon plays an integral role when you walk, run, jump or engage in almost any type of athletic activity. Injuries to this tendon may occur from overuse or damage due to a sudden movement or trauma to the area. The tendon may become irritated, inflamed or swollen. It may also partially or fully tear or rupture. Achilles tendon injuries may cause a lot of pain and can also compromise the range of motion in your foot and leg.

What are symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury?

You may experience one or more of the following symptoms if you injure your Achilles tendon:

  • Pain down the back of your lower leg near the heel that gets worse with activity
  • Swelling along with pain during or after activity
  • Thickening of the Achilles tendon
  • Difficulty flexing the foot or bending it downward
  • A sudden sharp pain, sometimes accompanied by a popping sound (this may indicate the tendon has ruptured)

How is an Achilles tendon injury treated?

Treatment depends on the extent of the injury. If you have inflammation in the tendon, also referred to as tendonitis, you may experience relief by resting the affected leg, applying ice and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain. A cast, splint, walking boot or orthotics may be recommended. Specific exercises or physical therapy may help strengthen your calf muscles.

If your Achilles tendon has partially or fully ruptured (torn), surgery may be needed.

How can I prevent Achilles tendon injuries?

Although there is no way to guarantee that you'll never injure your Achilles tendon, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. These include:

  • Warming up properly before any type of physical activity, exercise or sports
  • Slowly increasing the intensity level of activity
  • Engaging in low-impact activities, such as bicycling or swimming, rather than high-impact activities like running, basketball or tennis
  • Alternating activities so you don't put repetitive stress on the tendon day after day
  • Wearing activity-appropriate supportive shoes
  • Avoiding exercise on uneven, slippery or hard surfaces
  • Stopping activities if you begin to experience pain, swelling or discomfort of the tendon

If you notice symptoms of a possible Achilles tendon injury, make an appointment to see a doctor. If you experience sudden severe pain in the back of your leg near your heel, accompanied by a popping sound or the inability to flex or bend your foot or stand on your toes, seek medical attention right away because it may be a sign of a ruptured tendon.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 14, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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