Preventing Achilles Tears: Tips and Exercises for Athletes

college age women during game play at soccer championship

I have noticed that a lot of professional athletes are tearing their Achilles tendons. What causes an Achilles tear? I am a high school athlete, and I want to be sure to avoid this injury. Are there certain sports or activities that are more likely to lead to this? What stretches or exercises can I do to protect myself from tearing my Achilles? Is there a tutorial I can follow?

Disclaimer: Please note, this reply is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, physical therapist, or other qualified health provider with a medical condition.

Things to Know

  • Gradually increase training intensity to avoid overexertion.
  • Balance high and low-impact exercises for overall strength.
  • Stretch calves regularly but avoid overstretching to prevent injury.

Thanks for reaching out with your questions about Achilles tendon tears, especially as a high school athlete aiming to avoid such injuries. Achilles tears often stem from forceful movements like cutting, sprinting, or jumping, where the foot is pushed forcefully from the ground, a condition termed forced ankle plantarflexion. Other factors include direct trauma or issues with tissue quality and tendon demand.

While we can never be one hundred percent sure that this type of injury won’t happen, the more you prepare your body for the type of activities that you will be doing the most as an athlete, the lower your chance of injury. Common activities predisposing to Achilles tears include running, jumping, and sudden starts and stops typical in sports like basketball, football, baseball, soccer, and tennis.

So how do you prevent this? Without doing a full and proper examination it will be difficult to tailor an exercise and stretching program that suits your needs and helps you avoid this injury. Nonetheless, here are some general suggestions:

  • Focus on regular stretching and strengthening of calf muscles, ensuring not to overstretch (go to the point where you feel a noticeable pull, but no pain).
  • Incorporate both low-impact (biking, swimming, walking) and high-impact (running, jumping) exercises into your routine.
teenage girl lifting weights while weight training
  • Gradually increase training intensity while allowing sufficient recovery time between high-intensity impact and strengthening exercises. You want to allow 30 sec between stretches and about one to two minutes between strengthening exercises.
  • You may be sore for one or two days after a workout, but soreness should never last more than three days, and you don’t want pain after or during the workout.

Here are a 5 specific exercises you can try:

  1. Heel Raises: Strengthening your calf muscles through heel raises helps improve the resilience of your Achilles tendon.
  2. Plantar Fascia Ball Rolling: Using a ball to roll out the plantar fascia can relieve tension and reduce the risk of Achilles strain.
  3. Big Toe Mobility Exercises: Improved mobility in your big toe can aid in maintaining proper biomechanics during athletic movements.
  4. Calf Stretching: Perform both straight-knee and bent-knee calf stretches to enhance flexibility and prevent overexertion.
  5. Ankle Dorsiflexion Stretch: Stretching your ankle in a dorsiflexed position helps maintain flexibility and prevents excessive strain on the Achilles tendon.
heel raises for Achilles tendonitis
using a tennis ball to roll under the foot for plantar fascia relief
Big toe mobility exercise
standing straight leg calf stretch
ankle dorsi flexion stretch

Once you’ve incorporated these moves into your routine, you can increase the intensity to include jumping, quick cutting movements (plyometrics), etc. For a visual guide, check out this video demonstrating a few of these exercises.

If you want a focused preventive workout for your Achilles tendons, consider the Achilles [P]rehab Program, also presented by The Prehab Guys.

Start your physical therapy journey today.

As physical therapists, we know the importance of movement for overall health and well-being. From injury recovery to achieving optimal performance, our passion is to help every patient reach their goals and live an active, pain-free life. 

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