The Achilles tendon (often simply called the ‘Achilles’) is the thick cord you can feel at the back of your ankle. It attaches the calf muscle to the back of your heel.
You can strain your Achilles, or it can become weak due to a lot of very small tears (which is known as degeneration), or it can tear (which is known as rupture).
If you have a problem with your Achilles, it is a good idea to see your doctor or physiotherapist.
Symptoms of Achilles tendon injuries
If you have injured your Achilles, it might hurt during or after exercise.
You might also feel weakness or stiffness at the back of your heel or have some swelling in the tendon. If you rupture your Achilles, it can feel like a hit to the back of the ankle. You might have trouble walking. If you have pain under the heel, it is usually not an Achilles problem.
Diagnosing an Achilles tendon injury
To diagnose a tendon injury, your doctor or physiotherapist will examine you and ask about your symptoms. An ultrasound or other scan such as an x-ray may be done to help identify the problem, but this is usually not needed.
Treatment of an Achilles tendon injury
If you think you may have hurt your Achilles, see a doctor straight away.
It is a good idea to stop any activity and carry out RICER – rest, ice, compression, elevation and referral for treatment – for two to three days.
Painkillers such as paracetamol can help relieve pain, if necessary.
Depending on the nature of your injury, your doctor or physiotherapist may advise you to:
- keep your weight off your ankle (such as by using crutches)
- do stretching and strengthening exercises
- tape your foot and heel
- use orthotics (firm inserts placed into a shoe).
If your Achilles is completely torn, surgery may be needed to repair it. This may reduce the chance that it will rupture again.
Some people require a program of rehabilitation that can last for months.
For more information, visit the Sports Medicine Australia website.
Prevention of Achilles tendon injuries
You can help protect your Achilles tendons by:
- wearing supportive shoes
- warming up and stretching before and after exercise
- gradually building up your level of physical activity
- resting between workouts
- doing exercises that strengthen your calf muscles.
Last reviewed: March 2017