How To Choose The Best Running Shoes For Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis is a painful inflammation of the muscle which connects the heel bone to the calf muscles called the Achilles tendon. Achilles tendinitis is mainly caused by using the affected limb too much and it is quite common among athletes.

The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. Inflammation of the tendon may result from repetitive stress or sudden increase in its use. When the heel and toes strike the ground during high impact activity and force travels through the muscles and the bones of the leg and foot. The muscle then responds with a contraction and the tendon undergoes repetitive stretch and tightening. Inflammation can lead to the hardening and thickening of the tendon.

Anatomy of the Achilles Tendon. Image credit: Sports Injury Clinic

It can easily be confused with xanthoma of the tendon, which is the disease caused by the accumulation of cholesterol in the blood. People who are prone to Achilles injuries are likely to stop running if the problem is persistent. Achilles tendinitis can affect both young and old people.

Your running shoes, if not proper, may cause flare-ups in your Achilles. A proper pair of shoes, on the other hand, can help in alleviating the pain.

The risk factors for Achilles tendinitis include tight heel cords, poor foot alignment and sudden changes in your running shoes or activities.

Symptoms of Achilles Tendinitis

  • Sharp or dull pain on the tendon, but often close to the heel
  • Limited ankle flexibility
  • Redness and heat over the affected area
  • A cracking sound when the tendon is rubbed by scar tissue when the ankle moves
  • A nodule, or lumpy block that can be seen on the tendon

Causes of Achilles tendinitis

  • Overstress or overworking of the tendon
  • Overpronation, which is excessive rolling out of the foot as you run. This leads to too much weight being transferred to the medial or inner side of the foot, rather than the ball of the foot.

Features to look out for when buying running shoes for Achilles tendinitis

  1. Flexibility in the forefoot and midfoot area
    Avoid shoes that have hard or rigid heel counters. Shoes that have softer heel counters or those that lack heel counters are ideal for people with Achilles tendonitis as they allow for more flexibility and freedom around the back of your foot. This is ideal for relieving pressure and it aids in recovery after an injury to the Achilles tendon.
  1. A higher heel-to-toe drop
    With Achilles tendinitis, the heel drop is a key feature. A higher drop of 9mm and above reduces the amount of stretch exerted on your Achilles tendon when running. If the tendon does not have the strength or flexibility to deal with the stretch produced by flatter shoes, problems, including injuries are likely to develop.

When a diagnosis is made surgery may be an option. However, this may not be necessary and other options may be explored first including physical therapy, pain medications, and supportive orthotics or shoes.

Many running shoes available in the stores have extra heel cushioning which increases the heel drop, so it is important to buy shoes that fit properly and replace them when the soles start wearing out. A great example of a brand ideally suited to runners with achilles problems are New Balance running shoes. Orthopedic inserts can also provide a heel pad or lift which is important in reducing the force exerted on the Achilles tendon.

A bandage wrap or silicone Achilles sleeve is also important in case your shoes rub uncomfortably against your tendon. Shoe inserts provide additional comfort and stability, and at the same time, they provide enhanced sensory feedback to the muscles of your calf so that they do not become overloaded.

Note that, should you start experiencing Achilles pain, it is time to stop running for some time. Take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or aspirin, and massage the area with ice for a few minutes several times a day until the pain subsides. Once the swelling or nodule is gone, make sure you stretch the calf muscles. Do not resume running until you can comfortably raise your toes without pain.

New Balance 860 V7 is considered a great running shoe for weak achilles tendons. Image credit: New Balance

Before you resume running, start off with the skipping rope, progress to jumping jacks, and eventually, begin running again. This should take roughly six to eight weeks.

It is also important to shop for running shoes in the afternoon or early in the evening when your feet are at their largest. This is because feet tend to swell or expand in the course of the day and any pair bought earlier in the day is likely not to fit as the day progresses.

You should also seek the advice of a qualified podiatrist especially if you are not sure of your shoe size so that they can measure your foot. They will also be in a good position to diagnose Achilles tendinitis especially because it is easily confused with xanthoma of the tendon as discussed earlier.