Having pain that impacts your running can be frustrating! Tendon pain can be especially difficult, as this type of pain can be very slow in its recovery. Often runners will run through their pain and wait for it to go away, which often will not happen- resulting in a cycle of pain and weakness.
Runners can have tendon pain in a variety of places:
- The achilles tendon- which will feel like heel pain that feels stiff and can makes you hobble in the morning,
- The patella tendon under the knee cap- which can make it difficult to run downhills
- The hamstring tendon where it inserts up under the buttock – which can make it painful to sit on hard surfaces or run uphill.
- The gluteal tendon in the outer hip area- which can make it painful to lie on at night time and difficult to run uphills.
Tendon pain often presents as pain that warms up or gets better with activity. So your initial steps in running might be achey, but then you can warm up and run through! Tendon pain can feel like a stiffness when your body is cold, which might mean you hobble a little in the morning. In the early stages, you may be able to run through the pain, however, as it gets worse, it will become increasingly harder to run.
So what is a tendon?
A tendon is a thick firm and slightly springy structure much like a thick rope that connects our muscles to our bones. Occasionally, if the tendon has been taking more load than it has the capacity for, these tendons can change in their structure. These structural changes can reduce the tendon strength and can create delayed pain. When a tendon has changes to its structure that reduces its strength, this is called tendinopathy.
So, what causes these stresses in the tendon? Take a look at the risk factors below
Risk factors for tendinopathy:
- Changes in training load. Are you training for an event that has increased your load suddenly? Tendons respond to loading, and if the tendon has not been given adequate time to adapt to new loads or increased training, this can cause stress on the tendon resulting in tendinopathy.
- As we get older, our tendons get older too! This means that the loading capacity and strength of a tendon can diminish a little.
- Estrogen is an important player in tendon rebuilding, growth and repair, so women who have been through menopause are at risk of tendinopathy.
- Some antibiotics and cholesterol medications have been known to detriment tendon health.
- Some people have a genetic predisposition to tendon issues so you may notice that you have similar issues to your family members.
How do I treat Tendinopathy?
It is important to see your health professional to discuss the best ways to treat your personal situation, and they can provide pain relief as well! See below for some general guidelines on treating tendinopathy in runners.
Ideas to improve your tendon health:
- Reduce pain. The first step is to allow the tendon to rest from the painful activities. This not only means running but might also include other aspects of your life, like walking, lifting and strength training. All is not lost though, your physiotherapist can guide you with exercises that strengthen the tendon in a positive way to help it recover.
- Gradual Loading. This is an important phase. You will need to strengthen the tendon very gradually, and it will certainly tell you when it is not happy! This phase will often have highs and lows so if you feel like you are going backwards, you need to go back to resting, but often the recovery response is quicker.
- Don’t stretch it! When the tendon is unhappy, pulling on it is the last thing it needs. If you feel stiff, it is better to massage the nearby muscle, with a massage ball, a foam roller or even your hands! It is best to avoid massaging directly over the painful tendon.
How can physiotherapy help?
- A physiotherapist can determine if you do have a tendon problem (tendinopathy) with very specific testing
- A physiotherapist can do a biomechanical assessment to determine why you have developed this problem and start making an action plan forward to help you resolve the issue.
- A physiotherapist can provided specific exercises to help gradually build on tendon strength that is tailored to your body and your tendon health. Every person is different and not all exercises are suitable for every single body! Exercises need to be specifically prescribed.
- A physiotherapist can then check all of the factors that can contribute to load on tendons for runners – including foot and shoe assessment, running assessment and biomechanical testing.
Tendon Health at Synergy Physio
At Synergy physio we pride ourselves in our ability to provide thorough assessment and individualised treatment plans. If you are experiencing pain with running, don’t run through it! We can help you get back on track to doing what you love and achieving your running goals sooner.
Do you have outer hip pain thats limiting your running? Check out our NEW online Six Step Healthy Hip Program designed especially for gluteal tendon problems! Click here to find out more!
Our team love to help YOU with your health. We offer one on one consultations, tailored small group classes, hydrotherapy and post-operative care! Would you like simply to speak to one of our expert physiotherapy team members to find out if we can help you?