If you have a student suffering from an Achilles tendon injury, they may feel like they don’t have a good leg to stand on, literally. The Achilles tendon (also called the calcaneal tendon) is a long, thick band of tissue that connects the calf muscles to the heel. It is involved in flexion and extension of the ankle, making it a part of nearly all moving activities including walking, running, and many yoga poses.
When the tendon becomes inflamed, it is called Achilles tendonitis and can result in swelling, pain, and decreased range of motion. It generally comes on slowly as a result of overuse or not warming up properly before activity. Bone spurs on the heel can also cause irritation that gets worse the longer it is left untreated.
Achilles tendonitis can affect people of all ages and fitness levels, bringing with it pain and discouragement when regular activities cannot be performed. Once the tendonitis is diagnosed and treatment begins, yoga for Achilles tendonitis can become a valuable tool in healing and preventing injuries.
In order to improve motion and flexibility in the Achilles tendon after injury, the tendon and surrounding muscles need to be gently stretched and strengthened. By incorporating the following poses into your teaching, you can help affected students recover better and help all students decrease the risk of developing injuries.
Poses To Help With An Achilles Tendon Injury
These poses start with those best for those in early recovery stages and continue to poses that are beneficial as the tendon is healed and needs to be strengthened.
One of the most simple yoga poses has some of the most substantial benefits when it comes to Achilles tendonitis prehab and rehab. Have students come into the pose with legs extended and back straight. Once there, they can begin gently flexing and extending the ankles to activate the Achilles tendon. As they point their toes, the calf muscles and tendon tighten, and as they pull their toes back toward their shin, the tendon is stretched.
Depending on where they are in the injury recovery process, they may have varying ranges of motion. If only one foot is affected, it can be helpful to compare the range of motion of the healthy ankle to the injured one. This way, the student can see progress over time as they continue to heal. Staff pose is one of the best places to start for students just beginning recovery because it is non-weightbearing. As students become comfortable with flexing and extending, you can add in variations to include ankle circles or use a strap around the bottom of the foot to provide resistance.
Hand Under Foot Pose (Gorilla Pose)
Another great pose for those in early-to-mid recovery stages is hand under foot pose. This is a simple standing pose with an extra stretch for the Achilles tendon. As students come into a forward fold, have them place their hands palm up under their feet to elevate the front of the feet. It will require a gentle stretch of the Achilles tendon as the foot is dorsiflexed. The feet also naturally want to compensate for the change, and press down into the hands, which slightly flexes the ankle. As the body alternates between slight flexion and extension of the ankle in this pose, the Achilles tendon is worked and the body learns to trust in it again.
Once students have reached a point in the recovery process where they are able to be fully weightbearing, we can shift the focus to one leg. Providing variations here is the key to success. Students may feel comfortable near a wall or having the elevated foot’s toes just touching the ground. Tree pose is a great way to improve strength and stability in the Achilles tendon, even though there is very little movement in the pose. Tree pose incorporates isometric muscle contraction (where muscles are contracting, but little or no movement is occurring), which is a great way to build strength in newly healed areas. It also can help improve proprioception, which the Achilles tendon plays a large role
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As students recover and are ready to take on more strengthening poses, a high lunge is a practical option with room to add your own flair. It strengthens the tendon and muscles surrounding it, and just as importantly, can provide a huge confidence boost to students. With the lunge being a hallmark pose in yoga, it can feel empowering for students to be able to do it again. Have students gently move into this pose, perhaps using a wall or block for added stability, especially the first few times they try it. This can help students get set up and feel the tendon engage, knowing it will support them. We often take for granted the automatic confidence we have that our bodies will hold us up through poses, but after an injury, that feeling may be lacking. It is important to help our students regain trust in their bodies through poses that feel accessible and inviting.
Chair Pose on Tip Toes
When students are ready for both strength and balance in a pose, try a variation of chair pose. After coming into chair, students slowly shift their weight onto the balls of their feet, elevating their heels. The Achilles tendon is fully engaged and is responsible for helping the heels stay up and keeping the body balanced. Changing the duration or repetition of this pose can be done to build up strength over time. As you sequence your class, you can also add this heel lift to other poses including goddess (lifting either one or both heels at a time) and garland poses.
Yoga for An Achilles Tendon Injury
Achilles Tendonitis can take time to treat and fully recover from, so knowing where your students are in the healing process can help you tailor the class to their current ability. Even after a full recovery, range of motion may still be limited, which is why continuing to do yoga for Achilles tendonitis can be incredibly beneficial. Moving through poses can help increase their mobility, flexibility, and stability so that students can feel confident in their ability to run, jump, and take on whatever movement comes their way.
Achilles tendon injuries. Achilles Tendon Injuries | Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2021, August 8). Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/achilles-tendon-injuries