Purple and Gold nation is in a state of mourning. Kobe Bryant fueled a late-season run to get the Lakers into the playoffs, but the megastar tore his Achilles tendon while making a routine play, and he sat out the first round, in which the Lakers were unceremoniously swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
Fans, sportswriters and some players have predicted that Kobe’s injury signals the end of an illustrious career—one that so far includes 5 Championships, 15 All-Star game appearances and two gold medals. That remains to be seen.
Whether he’s done or not as a pro, Kobe is not alone in his fate. Every year, thousands of athletes rupture their Achilles tendons. So it’s critical to understand this injury and to learn ways to prevent it. (Prevent Achilles injuries with this warm-up.)
Achilles Tendon Anatomy
The Achilles tendon is a dense fibrous sheath that runs from the heel to the middle of the calf. It is responsible for pointing the foot (i.e., plantarflexion). It’s the longest and strongest tendon in the human body.
During daily activities, the Achilles is regularly subjected to ground reaction forces equal to or greater than your body weight. For example, ground reaction forces associated with walking range from one to one and a half times your body weight. Common movements in sports such as sprinting, pivoting, cutting and jumping place even greater force on the tendon.
Achilles Tendon Tears
An Achilles tendon rupture often occurs during sudden movements, such as rapidly changing direction or driving off a foot that is flexed toward the shin (i.e., dorsiflexion). A rupture is a complete tear of the tendon, requiring immediate medical attention and surgery. It causes extreme pain, loss of lower-leg function, swelling and discoloration. It generally takes about a year after surgery to fully recover.
Common Injury Causes
- Improper footwear
- Previous injury history, including tendocalcaneal bursitis and Achilles tendonitis
- Inadequate recovery
- A sudden increase in activity, including intensity and volume
Injury Prevention Techniques
Fortunately, a sound training program can reduce your chance of rupturing your Achilles. Follow these guidelines to avoid this devastating injury.
1. Start Lifting
If you aren’t already lifting, you should immediately start a strength-training program. It will reduce tendon stiffness. Your tendons will function more like fresh elastic bands rather than ones that are old and dried out. (Also Try these ankle exercises.)
2. Listen to Your Body
If your heel is throbbing in pain, scale things back. A day or two off can stave off an injury caused by overuse. You may want to fight through it, but rest will pay off down the line.
3. Thoroughly Warm Up
Regardless of your age, sport and activity level, a warm-up helps increases range of motion, aligns your joints, increases muscle length and prepare your tendons for the extreme forces of sport competition. Below are two specific warm-up exercises that target the Achilles.
Wall Ankle Mobility
Sets/Reps: 2×15-20 each side
Reverse Calf Raise Toe Taps
4. Strengthen Your Calves
Physical therapy following an Achilles injury typically involves strengthening the calves. Take a proactive approach and strengthen them before an injury occurs. Try these two exercises.
Donkey Calf Raise
Braced Dumbbell Calf Raise
Sets/Reps: 2×12-15 each side