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  • Writer's pictureLionel Pannunzio PT / SCS

Achilles Pain In Soccer Players - Tendinopathy - Part I


Achilles tendinopathy is an irritation of the Achilles tendon, a thick band of tissue along the back of the lower leg that connects the calf muscles to the heel.

It affects Soccer players of all ages. In this blog, you will learn the main causes of Achilles Pain, the different types of injures and guidelines for recovering from this condition


A total of 27 clubs from 10 countries and 1743 players have been followed prospectively during 11 seasons between 2001 and 2012.

A total of 203 (2.5% of all injuries) Achilles tendon disorders were registered.

A majority (96%) of the disorders were tendinopathies

A higher injury rate was found during the preseason compared with the competitive season

The mean lay-off time for Achilles tendinopathies was 23±37days

Players with Achilles tendon disorders were significantly older than the rest of the cohort, with a mean age of 27.2±4 years vs 25.6±4.6 years

27% of all Achilles tendinopathies were reinjuries.

Recurrence is common after Achilles tendinopathies and the reinjury risk is higher after short recovery periods.

Anatomy of the Injury

Where is the problem?

Achilles Tendinopathy is an irritation of the Achilles tendon, a thick band of tissue along the back of the lower leg that connects the calf muscles to the heel.

What is a Tendinopathy?

The term “tendinopathy” refers to any problem with a tendon, either short- or long-term.

The Achilles tendon transmits force from the calf muscles down to the foot when a person pushes the foot off the ground (eg, runs or jumps), and helps control the position of the ankle when the foot touches back down on the ground (eg, lands).

Achilles tendinopathy results when the demand placed on the Achilles tendon is greater than its ability to function.

The condition can occur after a single incident (acute injury) or after repetitive irritation or "microtrauma" (chronic injury).

Most often, Achilles tendon pain is the result of repetitive trauma to the tendon that can result in chronic Achilles tendinopathy—a gradual breakdown of the tissue—and is most often treated with physical therapy. Please note that we don’t use the term tendonitis because “itis” means inflammation like in a acute ankle sprain. This is more a problem in the architecture of the tendon, a mechanical problem within the tendon and not an inflammatory process.

So in the tendinopathy there are mainly healthy fibers in conjunction with some “abnormal fibers”

Stages of the Achilles Tendinopathy

  • Normal Tendon

  • Reactive Tendinopathy: early stage of the tendinopathy, as a result of an excessive and rapid load. Thickening of the tendon. Painful . Reversible. Young -15-25 yrs

  • Tendon Disrepair: tendon unable to manage loads and architectural changes occur inside the tendon. Trying to repair . Less painful. Less reversible. Young Adult - 20-35 yrs

  • Degenerative Tendinopathy: Late stage of Tendinopathy, tendon gives up on healing. Degeneration of parts the tendon. Non-reversible. Older - 30-60 yrs

  • Reactive on Degenerative Tendinopathy: acute exacerbation of a Degenerative Tendon

Types of Achilles Tendinopathy

Pain can be present at any point along the tendon; the most common area to feel tenderness is just above the heel (known as mid-portion Achilles tendinopathy), although it may also be present where the tendon meets the heel (known as insertional Achilles tendinopathy).

Causes of Achilles Tendinopathy

Achilles tendinopathy is linked to several different factors, including:

  • Calf muscle tightness

  • Calf muscle weakness

  • Abnormal foot structure

  • Abnormal foot mechanics

  • Improper footwear

  • A change in an exercise routine or sport activity

  • Obesity


With Achilles tendinopathy, you may experience:

  • Tenderness in the heel or higher up in the Achilles tendon with manually applied pressure

  • Pain and stiffness with walking, at its worst with the first several steps, especially worse in the morning upon stepping down from bed or after being sitting for +20-30 mins

  • Tightness in the calf

  • Swelling in the back of the ankle

The Pain cycle and the road to a Chronic pain

In the early stages of the Tendinopathy Achilles Pain typically warms up as the athlete starts to exercise, feels okay during exercise, then aches again following activity.

As time goes on, there is often less of a warm-up effect and the pain persists during exercise. Patients will often also complain of morning pain and stiffness which warms up over a few minutes. Tenderness and swelling are also common complaints.

That’s how this Tendinopathy becomes Chronic and from there it can last forever without proper treatment

How Physical Therapy can help me get better from Achilles Pain?

At White Bay Physical Therapy, we will review your medical history and complete a thorough examination of your heel, ankle, and calf. We will assess your foot posture, strength, flexibility, and movement. This process may include watching you stand in a relaxed stance, walk, squat, step onto a stair, or do a heel raise. The motion and strength in other parts of your leg also will be assessed.

We may also ask questions regarding your daily activities, exercise regimens, and footwear, to identify other contributing factors to your condition.

Imaging techniques, such as X-ray or MRI, are often not needed to diagnose Achilles tendinopathy. Although it is unlikely that your condition will ultimately require surgery, your physical therapist will consult with other medical professionals, such as an orthopedist, to determine the best plan of treatment for your specific condition if it does not respond to conservative care.

Treatment Guidelines

Seth O’Neil a physiotherapist from UK and one the Achilles Tendinopathy “Gurus” resumed the guidelines for treating Achilles Tendinopathy in 5 points

1. Reassurance

One of the common incorrect beliefs is that tendinopathy needs to be rested to get better. In actuality the tendon needs to be used ‘more’ but in the correct manner (ie loaded rehab exercises and progressive running)

2. De-threaten the condition

Many people can fear loading the tendon for concern of ‘tears’ or ‘rupture’. The therapist’s job is to show the tendon-pain-sufferer of the very high loads that tendons endure day to day (eg 4x Body-weight intra tendon loads with walking, 6x BW with running) so loading the tendon with just your body at the beginning it is not a high demand activity so you are safe to do it.

3. Educate on load management

The soccer player needs to appreciate that loading tendon correctly is the pathway forward, how to monitor increases in workload based on the pain response, the required time to allow tendon to adapt to loading, why ‘flare ups’ can be expected.

Build plantar flexor capacity: I like to see soccer players being able to do heavy gastrocnemius and soleus work in a gym (targets 1.5x body weight soleus seated calf raises & 0.3-0.4x body weight standing calf raises aiming for 3x 8reps with good control

Return to full practice : this must be staged & I normally suggest returning to practice progressively with days in between to rest


  • Achilles Pain from Tendinopathy is very common in Soccer players.

  • In this Tendinopathy there is an imbalance between the amount of load that the tendon in receiving and the tendon's capacity

  • Weakness in the calf musculature is the main reason for Achilles Tendinopathy.

Next post will be about what exercises you can do to self manage Achilles Pain, stay tuned.

Do you have other questions about Achilles Tendinopathy?

Do you want to know if Physical Therapy can help your particular case?

Give us a call at 754 244 2561 and we will help you answer these question and even we will schedule you a Free consultation

Visit for more information on how to talk to a Sports-Certified Specialist and start getting better

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