Stretching is the key for runners looking to avoid Achilles injuries

The Running Doc is now a columnist on, and will be answering some more of your burning running questions there too!

Here is the latest question Dr. Maharam received:

Hi doc. Just began seeing your column in the News, great to see running getting some space. Anyway, I’m a runner, have run 6 marathons in the last 6 years. Got faster every time till last year when my calf/Achilles acted up during training. Just very tight, pain in my heel, too. Massages, physical therapy, active release, stretching programs, heat, ice, etc. have offered little relief, and it’s been over a year now. I’m still running a bit, but I’m missing my first fall marathon in 6 years and that’s the worst part. Any insight?

Eddie D. New York, NY.

Thanks, Eddie. This time of year I see tons of Achilles tendonitis, so this question is really timely. Any sport that keeps you on your feet and uses a pushing-off motion can produce Achilles trouble. Orthotics are usually prescribed, but stretching is always your first defense.

The Achilles tendon, which is formed from your calf muscles, can be pushed beyond its limits and become inflamed. That’s the tendonitis to which most athletes ascribe pain – and perhaps some swelling – above the upper heel. But every time the tendon gets inflamed, and certainly every time the pain comes from more serious micro-tears in the overused tissue which can easily be mistaken for tendonitis, the Achilles grows just a little weaker.

What brings the condition on, other than simple overuse? The Achilles is vulnerable to misuse. Designed to do its job of guiding the heel in a vertical plane, it’s intolerant of the inward rolling of the ankle when it rolls outward.

But a calf muscle routinely loosened by conscientious stretching every day and after a workout cuts the tendon some slack, particularly in stiffer athletes, reducing the tendon’s role as a shock absorber for which it’s not very well suited anyway. So on those impatient days when stretching seems too much of a bother, it pays to remind yourself that a neglected and partially torn tendon needs to rest and heal in a cast for 6 to 8 weeks unless you like courting a rupture.

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