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The Most Effective Achilles Tendonitis Exercises

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT November 18, 2020 0 Comments

Stretch strap exercise

Achilles tendonitis exercises are one of the best treatment options, whether you try them at home or with the guidance of a professional. The exercises you’ll find here are specifically selected to target and strengthen the achilles tendon, along with the supporting calf muscles. Keep scrolling for step-by-step instructions and video demonstrations. Plus learn more about what you can expect from physical therapy and rehab.

Range of Motion Exercises

Range of motion to address joint flexibility within the ankle joint itself is helpful in recovering from overuse injuries like achilles tendonitis. This is especially true when achilles pain brings on generalized full ankle stiffness, which is very common.

Seated Ankle Rotation

Sit comfortably in a chair. Simply lift the foot off the ground that you will be moving. Then, rotate the ankle as if drawing a large circle with your toes clockwise. Continue for up to 10 repetitions before switching direction and drawing a circle counterclockwise. Do not force the stretch. Modify to a smaller circle as needed. The ankle should feel loose and warm with completion.

Repeat 10 repetitions in each direction for up to 3 sets total.

Seated Toe Taps

This simple range of motion exercise will address the stiffest ankle motion associated with achilles tendon pain: dorsiflexion. Sitting in a comfortable chair again, place your feet flat on the floor at hip-width and the knees bent to approximately 90 degrees. While keeping the heels on the ground, lift the toes up toward the ceiling as high as they can go and hold for 1-2 seconds before returning them to the starting position.

Repeat 10 times for up to 3 sets.

Muscle Strengthening Exercises

Since the Achilles tendon is subject to stress and strain with any weight-bearing activity, the best way to get started with muscle strengthening is with localized, non-weight bearing, movements that help promote blood flow and reduce pain without causing additional strain to the area.

Seated Resisted Ankle Plantar Flexion 

Grab a moderate to heavy resistance band to get started. Sit in a comfortable chair and place the band around the ball of the foot (not the toes). Then, hold each end with your hands and adjust for appropriate tension by taking any slack out of the band. Straighten the knee and lower leg while holding the straps, then point the toes as if you were pushing a gas pedal. Keep your leg straight and motion slow and controlled without wobbling in the ankle.

Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Standing Assisted Balance

This exercise is a great starting point for building Achilles tolerance for standing and balance. Place the injured ankle in the center of a balance foam pad with the knee bent while standing near a wall or counter for balance. Place the other foot on the floor next to the pad. Then, simply shift your weight into your injured ankle (and straighten the knee) while keeping the foot flat on the balance pad. You will find that as you move the heel of the foot on the ground will lift up. Shift slowly back and forth with control.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. 

When you experience ankle pain, it is common for the sensations from your ankle to get out of sync or even muted. This can lead to poor balance and biomechanics that limit a full return to daily function and put the ankle at risk for further injury down the road.

Balance & Proprioception Exercises

Grab a balance pad or start by performing these exercises on a stable, flat surface to improve your balance and lower leg strength. Get step-by-step instructions for our two favorites below or watch this video for a full list of approved exercises by Dr. Michael White, PT, DPT.

Balance Pad Toe Raises

More commonly known as heel raises, you need a foam pad or softer surface for this one to challenge your balance. Keep a chair close by in case you need some balance assistance. Stand on the foam pad with the feet around hip-width apart. Make sure you have good balance before shifting your weight into your toes and lifting both heels off the ground as high as is comfortable. Keeping the motion-controlled is most important with the heel drop as you return to the starting position. Move for a count of 2 or 3 in each direction.

Repeat for 10 repetitions for 2-3 sets. If this is too easy, you can increase repetitions, try it as a single leg move, or even close your eyes. 

Foam Pad Step Ups

Stand in front of the foam pad for this one and near a wall or chair in case you need it for balance. Simply alternate placing one foot on the pad and stepping up onto the foam surface. Keep the motion slow and controlled throughout. To progress, you can step up and over the pad with one leg leading before turning around and switching legs.

Repeat for 10 reps on each leg for 2-3 sets total.

Remember, to take precaution and only perform exercises that are safe for your level of fitness and degree of symptoms. Some movements can be harmful and worsen your condition.

Exercises you should avoid with Achilles Tendon pain.

Stretching for Achilles Tendonitis

A stiff Achilles tendon can limit your ankle dorsiflexion (the ability to bring your toes up toward your shins) which is essential for everyday movement. Work in these daily stretches to reduce stiffness is important.

Achilles Tendon Sitting & Standing Calf Stretches

What to Expect from Physical Therapy

Do I need it?

If you are struggling with moderate to severe pain and your body feels totally out of sync, completing a round of physical therapy is a great option. Plus, seeking care from a physical therapist can go beyond just healing an injury by decreasing the risk of future injuries. 

What are the Benefits of Physical Therapy for Achilles Tendon Pain?

  • Proper and professional guidance from physical therapist
  • In-depth and personalized assessment to help diagnose what causes your sharp pain. 
  • Personalized treatment program 
  • Better understanding of what your body needs to heal

What Type of Treatment Can I Expect?

A physical therapy treatment program will involve a mix of personalized recommendations and treatments. Pain relief will be the top goal with use of modalities such as ice, heat, simple exercises, and more. Then, you will gradually transition to restoring function with higher-level exercises, education, biomechanics and more. You may also be taught specific techniques for supporting ankle healing such as achilles tendinitis massage or taping.

Massage for Achilles Tendon Pain

Taping Techniques for Achilles Tendonitis

How Long is Physical Therapy for Achilles Tendinopathy?

The length of physical therapy will depend on a lot of different factors, such as severity of the injury and the level of guidance you need to stay on track. Typically, you can expect to see a physical therapist 1-3 times a week for 6-12 weeks. This time can be significantly longer if you have sustained an achilles tendon rupture and need surgery first. The goal is to eventually discharge you with a home rehab program that you can continue on your own for sustainable results.

Exercising Safely

While the exercises listed in this article are a great place to start, if you are feeling unsure about your treatment, it’s always to best discuss your concerns and options with your physical therapist. Always keep them in the loop on any changing symptoms that will help them provide better treatment or refer you to your orthopedic doctor for further imaging and testing if necessary.

More On Exercises You Should Avoid

Sources:

https://www.choosept.com/symptomsconditionsdetail/physical-therapy-guide-to-achilles-tendon-injuries-tendinopathy

https://mydoctor.kaiserpermanente.org/ncal/Images/achilles_tendonitis_tcm75-823281.pdf

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/achilles-injury-physical-therapy

Achilles Tendonitis Products

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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