Common in runners, injuries or inflammation of the Achilles tendon occur due to overuse and shock from frequent pavement pounding. One of the best ways to prevent injury (or reduce inflammation symptoms) is to practice specific stretching exercises to reduce pain and discomfort.
Pick the Right Time
If you aren't engaging in stretching before any workout, now is the time to start. Begin by making it a point to stretch both before and after your workout. You should perform at least three Achilles tendon-specific stretches prior to a workout, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
The Wall Flex
Start with this exercise that stretches both the calf and Achilles tendon. Begin by standing in front of a wall or fence about an arm's length away with your feet parallel toward the wall. Lifting one leg up to knee height, rest your foot on the wall. Keeping the foot straight and posture aligned, rest the foot on the wall for five seconds (slightly more as your are able to increase your balance). Your goal is to eventually rest your heel directly on the wall, so continue to gently stretch the foot toward the wall as you build flexibility. Repeat on the other leg, then three times in the series.
The Functional Stretch
Another stretch that can be done virtually anywhere involves sitting in a full squat with your heels stretching down as far as possible toward the floor. Your knees should be pointing outward, and the stretch should be held for 10 seconds.
If you experience knee pain or strain related to this stretch, it may be a good idea to hold on to something in front of you, such as a pole, chair, couch or other stable apparatus. As an added bonus, rising from the squat helps to boost balance and strength.
An Old Yoga Favorite
The downward dog is a classic yoga position that provides a great stretch for the Achilles tendon and provides a perfect wrap up to your Achilles stretching routine.
Downward dog basically requires making an upside down "V" with your body. Starting on all fours, place your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor, and straighten your legs. While you should feel a stretch in the shoulder, really focus on the back of your legs. Gently push the heels toward the floor and take a few deep breaths while allowing your body to gain flexibility. Try to hold this stretch for at least 10 seconds, then repeat three times.
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