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Are You at Risk of Tearing Your Achilles Tendon?

If your calf is tight, you could be one of the half-million people who tear their Achilles tendon every year. For many people, it means the tendon snaps off its attachment to the heel. As anyone who went through that experience will tell you, it is excruciatingly painful.

While it’s the most common tendon tear, Achilles tendon tears are preventable simply by keeping the muscles that pull on the tendon loose, elastic, and long. Many years ago when I had my holistic medical clinic in Scottsdale, an office manager for an orthopedic surgeon sent her surgeon to me because he wasn’t healing from his torn Achilles tendon. Also, she needed him to relax–or she was going to quit!

This doctor was a nice guy who was very tense. He admitted that he didn’t follow his own advice and went back to work too soon after his first tear. He ended up snapping the tendon off the bone the second time. After watching the general stiffness of his body as he moved and feeling the hardness of his tissue, I mentioned he was tense. He quickly retorted, “No, I’m not tense. I just have muscular anomalies.”

Every time I lightly touched a new area he felt pain prompting him to give me a new diagnosis. After several minutes of this, I stopped working and told him point-blank: “Unless you learn to relax, you are not going to improve.” I explained to him that his tension was systemic, it wasn’t just his calf. His general tension and restricted movement pattern had allowed his calf to become so badly tense and his tendon so brittle that when he tore it the second time all he had done was turn the corner in his office. That’s right: while walking around a corner, his tendon snapped off the bone again.

How to prevent Achilles tears

These tendons don’t tear unless the calf muscles they attach to pull so hard they cause the tendon to tear or even snap off the heel. The calves’ muscles develop their tightness and shortness from years of never fully extending them. You wouldn’t do bicep curls and only extend your arm out halfway, because you know the bicep would eventually shorten. That’s what happened with the calf because of how these clients walked – they never extended the heel behind them. It as if they are wearing high heels, shortening the calf muscles with every step.

Stretching and massage are great at keeping the calves loose, but they can’t counter years of a poor stride that never stretches out the calves. After a few decades of the muscles and connective tissues tightening and shortening, many people require remedial therapies such as Rolfing or skilled deep tissue massage to regain the elasticity and length.
If you find your calves feel tight when you try to extend them, get some work done on them! It’s much easier to prevent an Achilles tear than to recover from one.

Owen Marcus, MA Certified Advance Rolfer, 30 yrs experience, www.align.org, call if you have questions – 265.8440.

Photoby glennwilliamspdx

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