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This past Saturday I did a 16 mile run and had some achilles pain in my right leg. Nothing major, but I could feel it. I had no problem walking around afterward or the next morning. I ran an easy 4 on Sunday and it was tight with some minor pain through most of the run. I've taken the whole week off and iced it, put some heat on it and have been excercising it and my calves all week. I have a 10k tomorrow (Saturday) that I've signed up for and would like to run. Would it be okay to run it? Once again I've had no pain while walking, only some tightness going up and down stairs, and that has been waning every day. My plan is just to run this race and if I still feel pain take all of next week off as well. Any thoughts?
There is the possibility you could get away with one more race, but it will lengthen your recovery period after. Sooner or later you have to pay the piper. Better sooner than later, Arabo.
Achilles pain is one of the first symptoms of calf muscle tightness. If you are new to this pain, it's almost guaranteed you will feel it here before any actual damage to the Achilles occurs. Acting in time can prevent more serious damage caused by exercising with muscles that are too tight.
Right now, relaxing the calf muscles is key to beginning your recovery. While exercise is normally a good thing, relaxed muscle tissue heals a lot faster. In most cases, this doesn't mean laying around doing nothing, but finding every way to stimulate healing circulation in the muscle without loading it the way competitive running does.
The type of exercise you have been doing in your down time is important. You want to make sure it is invigorating but still allows tissue the time and resources to heal. Ice can help in the acute stage if there is swelling but you only want to introduce heat after this point is past. The walking is good, keep stairs to a minimum, but consider skipping this race. Running it could impact the next couple races, with no end to the snowball effect until you relent.
While you consider this, it's important to figure out why the problem is on the right side. I have found that track workouts stress the right Achilles more when running the usual counter-clockwise direction, simply because the outside leg has to travel farther per lap. Getting permission to do recovery runs in the other direction may help offset this problem.
Sometimes right calf tightness comes from running the right shoulder of the road, when the right foot has to lift a bit further to account for the drainage gradient and maintain balance. If so, switching sides may help, and is probably safer. I prefer running on a neutral surface in a park, where you can pick your line without getting run over, at least by cars (watch out for bikes).
Other times, there can be a biomechanical explanation for one-sided pain. Most people have one leg that is significantly different than the other in length, called a leg-length discrepancy. While barely noticed by the sedentary population, it can plague an athlete's entire career if not compensated for. Sometimes an orthotic or heel lift can give temporary relief while a more permanent solution is sought.
There can be problems with hip or foot structure and function, which lead to increased pronation of the foot during running. When this happens the supinating muscle Tibialis Posterior can tire and refer pain to the Achilles area, mimicking Achilles Tendinitis. The Tib P. is a deep muscle residing between the lower leg bones on the rear calf. You'll never find it if the superficial calf muscles are too tight, so it helps to relax the entire rear calf group.
Start by sitting with the belly of your calf muscles resting on the opposite knee. Let the leg slowly slide down the knee to scan the muscles for sensitive spots. No doubt you'll find some, but resting the kneecap somewhere in the middle of the calf can gradually make its way down to the Tib. P. between the bones. Sustained gentle pressure for several seconds can cause it to quiet down. This can also be done with paired thumbs or fingers with practice. I scan mine in the shower, where soap and water act as a lubricant. The object is not the pressure itself, but for the muscle to release its tension. It still needs to "breathe" circulation, so don't squash it to death.
If you can get this entire muscle group to relax, healing will not be far behind. As always, make sure the rate of recovery in your exercise routine always meets or exceeds the rate of breakdown. Otherwise, the problem will persist, and recovery time will lengthen disproportionately.
I have both rested and raced through Achilles issues and if I could do it again I'd have just rested. If you are interested in some of the things I did that really helped with the achilles let me know here or at teachtorun.com
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