Achilles Tendinopathy – Overcoming injury to complete first Triathlon

I’ve always wanted to complete a Triathlon; I swam a lot as a kid, and always enjoyed running. But my love for soccer had always taken precedence.

During the COVID-19 lockdown last year – gyms closed, and soccer stopped; I bought a road bike and started cycling and running more. It was at this point I decided I was going to start training for a triathlon – aiming for Huskisson ‘Husky’ Triathlon Festival in February 2022.

In August last year, just when I felt my fitness was improving. I developed some right Achilles pain. Just a discomfort at first that would come and go. As the good physio that I am, I ignored it, hoped it would go away. But after another month of worsening pain I decided I should pay my body a bit of attention. 

I had Achilles Tendinopathy. Tendinopathy is a term used to describe degenerative changes to a tendon structure. Typically, this involves microtears and disorganisation of fibres that leads to reduced tendon strength and pain. This happens as a result of a tendon being exposed to a load that it isn’t strong enough for, and hasn’t been given the opportunity to adapt. In my case this was due to increasing my running mileage too quickly. 

The fortunate thing about triathlon, is that there are still two other disciplines that I could still train for, without irritating my Achilles. I began rehabbing my Achilles by strengthening my calf, working on my foot stability and balance, and my hip stability. I also used shockwave therapy to help manage pain. This gave me the opportunity to focus more on my swimming, which I had neglected a little throughout the winter months. When my calf and Achilles became stronger, I added plyometric exercises (jumping) to prepare the tendon for running. 

It was December, before I began to re-introduce running (starting with 400m jog with 1 min rest x4 ), cutting it a little fine for my event in February – where I’d have to run 5km continuously, but I continued to cautiously increase my running distance up until the event.

The event rolled around quickly, I felt very underprepared with my running but confident I had done enough to keep my Achilles Tendon happy. I had to swim 750m, cycle 20km and run 5km. I finished the first two legs in good time. I managed to complete the run, a little slow, but without any Achilles pain or feeling too tired, thanks to all the swimming and cycling I had been doing.

Nothing like a healthy dose of injury to keep me empathetic towards my patients who are also suffering with injury/pain, that is keeping them from doing the things they enjoy. Not to mention a first-hand experience of tendinopathy to help me treat it as a physio.

Since Huskisson, I’ve completed the Wollongong triathlon festival. It’s now onwards and upwards to the 2022/23 season – injury free, fingers crossed.

Written by: Vanessa Stanton, Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Sans Souci Physiotherapy Centre

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