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Achilles Heel

A word of warning to those of us of a certain age who are considering a return to sporting activities after a few years break. You may still believe that you are able to run around the squash court or football pitch with the vigour of a teenager but you may have an ‘Achilles heel’ that could stop you in your tracks.

The Achilles Tendon is the strongest and thickest tendon in the body. It’s the very visible cord like structure that runs from the bottom of the calf muscles to just underneath the heel and allows you to stand on tip toes, jump, walk and run.

Those who run middle and long distances are prone to Achilles injuries such as sprains and strains. The group most likely to rupture this tendon though, are the middle aged born again athletes, who enthusiastically leap back into activities as if they had never been away. Calf muscles may be tighter, leg muscles may be weaker and the sudden increase in use may result in a very painful and debilitating injury.

I have been called to a couple of patients recently who illustrate this point; take Jack as a perfect example.

Jack used to play tennis a couple of times a week until family life got in the way. A chance visit to his GP on another matter resulted in a stern talking to. His weight had been creeping up over the years, his blood pressure was now on the high side, and he was being tested for diabetes. The GP explained the real risk of stroke and heart disease and it came as quite a wake up call. Determined not to end up with these conditions, Jack decided to get fit immediately. He walked out of the GP surgery, called a friend and booked the squash court.

Ten minutes into the 1st game and it all went horribly wrong. Jack described hearing what sounded like a gunshot and felt intense pain in the back of his lower leg as his Achilles Tendon completely ruptured. For a moment he actually thought he had been shot such was the noise and sensation he felt!

Now this may sound like I’m trying to put you off exercising! I’m really not; the benefits are many-fold, but zero activity to squash is exactly what you shouldn’t do.

Everyone, no matter their age, should be doing something suitable to maintain their levels of activities. However, it is all about taking a step-wise approach. You must gradually build activity into your daily life if it hasn’t been part of your routine for a while. Take the stairs not the lift, walk before you jog and jog before you run, stretch those tight and weak muscles and tendons before using them and putting them into severe shock! Speak to your family doctor if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or other concerns.

Jack is being treated by wearing a plaster cast to immobilise his leg until healing takes place; obviously he can’t drive during this time but he should make a good recovery. Jack is unperturbed by his injury and  the determination to get fit remains. In fact he informs me that he’ll probably start swimming again as soon as the cast is off as a safer alternative to squash!

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