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Achilles Tendon Strengthening

Strengthen the Achilles Tendon with Eccentric Exercise

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Updated September 04, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Achilles Tendon Eccentric  Strengthening

Achilles Tendon Eccentric Strengthening

photo (c) E. Quinn
The Achilles tendon< runs along the back of your lower leg and connects the two major calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) to the back of the heel bone. This major tendon is active during movements that require a push off the forefoot, such as running, jumping, cycling, or going up stairs.

The most common injuries related to the Achilles tendon include:

If you participate in sports that require strong forefoot push-offs, it's important to protect your Achilles tendon from injuries. Recommendations for Achilles injury prevention include:

Some experts believe that eccentric strengthening of the Achilles, gastrocnemius, and soleus muscles may reduce the risk of Achilles tendonitis and calf strain. Because the eccentric muscle contractions cause the muscle fiber to generate more tension than either concentric or isometric contractions, eccentric muscle contractions appear to be associated with greater muscle strengthening, which may protect the Achilles tendon. Some argue that the benefit may be due to the stretching of the muscle during eccentric exercise, and a corresponding lengthening of the muscle-tendon unit that results in less strain during ankle joint motion and fewer injuries.

While we may not know with certainty if the benefit of this eccentric exercise is due to the strengthening or the stretching component, it does seem clear that if this simple exercise can help reduce an Achilles or calf injury, it's worth giving it a go.

Achilles Tendon Eccentric Strengthening Exercise

  • Warm up with gentle stationary cycling, walking, or marching in place for several minutes.
  • Stretch your calf muscles.
  • Stretch your Achilles tendon.
  • Stand on the balls of your feet on the edge of a sturdy box or step, keeping your heels free.
  • Maintain control at all times and slowly lift up as high as you can on both toes (see first photo above).
  • Move your weight to one foot and slowly begin to lower yourself (this is the eccentric contraction phase) until your heels are just below the step (see the second photo above).
  • Shift your weight back to both feet and return to the start (top) position and repeat 10-15 times per leg.
  • Add this to your general strengthening routine 2-3 times per week.

Note: The study findings are based upon performing three sets of 15 repetitions on each leg twice per day, 7 days per week for 12 weeks.

Source:

J. D. Rees, A. M. Wilson and R. L. Wolman. Current concepts in the management of tendon disorders. Rheumatology Advance Access originally published online on February 20, 2006 Rheumatology 2006 45(5):508-521; doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kel046.

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