The Achilles tendon, also known as the calcaneal tendon, is easy to see and feel just above the heel at the back of the ankle. It is the attachment point for three muscles— the plantaris, gastrocnemius and soleus. Poor walking and standing patterns lead to tight calves and in turn tight achilles tendons.
The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the body and bears an amazing amount of stress when walking and running. The most severe achilles injury—a ruptured tendon—is almost always a result of an intense action such as sprinting where the muscles of the calf and its opposite muscle the tibialis anterior fail to work together leading to the blow-out.
For one thing, while many people do calf stretches and exercises they don’t think much about developing the front of the shin, tibialis anterior. Which is where walking comes in. The tibialis anterior is a key muscle in walking and a person that walks well probably need not think about working this muscle because proper gait patterns keep tibialis anterior toned and supple.
But this blog exists to tell you that you don’t walk correctly. People that stand and walk well create a natural balance between the calf and the front of the shin that allows the achilles tendon to live a fairly uncomplicated life. Instead one of two misalignments is likely to be happening:
- A hyperextended knee which angles the achilles tendon chronically backwards.
- Tights hips which pull the knee and shins sideways when walking force the achilles sideways as well.
Either of these two factors—hyperextension and tight hips—can lead to a chronically stressed and short achilles tendon that might well break down in an acute situation when you need a burst of speed. Walking, standing and running require the feet to land under the knees, which allows the achilles tendon to work smoothly. The two pictures below, simple as they are, paint a very different picture of how an achilles tendon would work when walking and standing. The picture on the left shows a step that would make any achilles tendon proud while the step on the right will ask much too much of this powerful tendon.
If you live with and hyperextend your knees when standing and walking—and oh so many of us do exactly that—you are putting your achilles tendon under constant unnecessary stress.